How are UK Populists, COVID-19 and Refugees Connected?

Published May 28th, 2020 - 12:15 GMT
Nigel Farage has been pictured filming refugees entering the UK /AFP
Nigel Farage has been pictured filming refugees entering the UK /AFP

Right-wing commentators and politicians in Europe are using the Covid-19 pandemics to push a narrative that suggests European countries are being invaded by illegal migrants and refugees.

In Britain, a leading anti-immigration commentator and ex-politician, Nigel Farage, recently published a video that suggests people are entering Britain by boat before hiding from authorities. In the video, Farage is stood on a beach he insists is being used by boat-crews to drop people. Little evidence is given, though he does speak to two witnesses who say they see people arriving on the beach in boats.


There is a notion that migrants and refugees could be bringing Covid-19 with them. “We know that in some of these camps they’ve had coronavirus, so there’s a risk with that as well,” says Farage. Evidence of this is lacking but even if all migrants and refugees entering Britain had contracted Covid-19, this would account for a relatively small number compared with the almost quarter of a million people who have contracted the virus in the UK.

Refugees living in and around Calais, northern France, have been sleeping rough since the French authorities dismantled the permanent camp – known as “The Jungle” – in 2016. It’s from this area that many people attempt to cross the Channel and enter the UK.

Right-wing commentators have been using the coronavirus outbreak to argue that “open borders” – by which they seem to refer to anyone crossing any international border – facilitated the spread of the virus.

Clare Moseley runs for Care4Calais, a charity which looks after refugees in the Calais area by providing food, clothing, and hygiene products. She told Al Bawaba that “the reason refugees come to the UK is to make an asylum claim. Everyone we speak to wants to come to the UK in order to go to the police and make a claim. It’s the same with the people who come in a lorry; the first thing they do is go to the authorities and make a claim.”

If Clare is right, it would suggest that Farage’s claim that migrants are entering the UK by boat and then hiding is not true. Nevertheless, since the start of the Covid-19 crises more migrants have been entering the UK. On one single day this month, a record number of 145 migrants crossed the Channel.

But Clare thinks this could be down to a change in transportation methods: “I don’t think it’s more than before. Before people were coming on lorries but now they’re coming on boats. But the boats are a lot more visible. Every single boat gets stopped in the Channel and by the time they get to the shore we know about it. But if someone enters in a lorry, they will get out of the lorry wherever it stops and go the police station. But that’s a lot less visible,” she says.

We are yet to see how much of this will stick once the virus subsides and the issue of immigration becomes prominent again in the UK.

Right-wing commentators have been using the coronavirus outbreak to argue that “open borders” – by which they seem to refer to anyone crossing any international border – facilitated the spread of the virus. This is undoubtedly true, the virus started in China and spread to other countries through human to human contact.

But short of nobody crossing an international border again, the argument is moot. The right has seen an opportunity with this narrative to continue with agendas which have started to lose traction since the outbreak of the pandemic. We are yet to see how much of this will stick once the virus subsides and the issue of immigration becomes prominent again in the UK.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.


© 2000 - 2020 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

You may also like