Monday, January 17

Fear of infection has not led to xenophobia

  • Sylo Taraku

    Political scientist and advisor in Tankesmien Agenda

Immigrants have made a positive contribution during the corona crisis. Many of them have worked in the front line and in critical societal functions, writes Sylo Taraku.

Norwegians’ attitudes to immigration have not changed during the pandemic. It shows surprising findings.

This is a chronicle. Opinions in the text are at the writer’s expense.

The pandemic is the biggest crisis that has hit Norway since World War II. It is a crisis that has a lot to do with globalization, border control and immigration. The infection came from abroad in several rounds. In addition, immigrants have been overrepresented both among coronary heart disease and among those who have not been vaccinated.

We have been open about this. Despite this, Norwegians’ attitudes towards immigration and immigrants have not changed in a negative direction. In a new examination from Statistics Norway, it appears that the trend of increasingly positive attitudes towards immigrants continues during the corona pandemic.

Evolutionary explanation

It seems a little surprising. Everything we know about human nature and historical experience would indicate that skepticism about immigration would increase and not decrease during the pandemic. Our xenophobia has an evolutionary explanation. When we humans lived on the savannah, we were exposed to many kinds of dangers.

One of them was the father of the infection.

We have therefore very early in our history developed skepticism towards strangers who could bring dangerous infections to us. We have taken this epidemic-based xenophobia with us throughout history.

In the Middle Ages, Jews were blamed for the Black Death. Muslim pilgrims have also been suspected of spreading cholera. Gays for spreading AIDS.

And so we can continue. The connection between fear of illness and attitudes towards immigration has been the subject of research long before the coronavirus entered. Experimental research has shown that perceived disease threat reinforces negative attitudes towards immigration.

Seven out of ten are positive about labor immigration

This time, the pandemic has not led to increased immigrant skepticism. The Statistics Norway survey which was published on 14 December shows that fewer people than ever view immigrants as a source of insecurity. Only 17 percent see immigrants as a threat to the security of society. This is a decrease of 3 percentage points from 2020.

The Statistics Norway survey asks the same questions every year. But this time, they have also included a question that directly concerns the pandemic. The results show that only a minority of 29 percent have become more skeptical of labor immigration as a result of the pandemic.

In comparison, seven out of ten believe that labor immigration from countries outside the Nordic region mostly contributes positively to the Norwegian economy.

Increasingly positive attitudes

In Europe, the trend of increasingly positive attitudes towards immigrants also continues. The migration crisis in 2015 and 2016 admittedly contributed to an immigration resistance that right-wing populist parties have benefited from.

It’s not because attitudes towards immigration suddenly became so much more negative. It is rather because immigration is emerging as the Europeans’ biggest concern. The pandemic has not triggered the same reaction.

The findings from the latest attitude surveys in European countries vary. But the general long-term trend is slowly but surely moving in the direction of more positive attitudes.

What kind of attitudes one has towards immigration and immigrants are influenced by several factors

How are we to understand this? We can do this partly through a better understanding of what generally influences attitudes to immigration. We can also understand this by looking at specific issues surrounding the pandemic and the debate on immigration.

What kind of attitudes one has towards immigration and immigrants are influenced by several factors. Like one’s values, socio-economic status and previous experiences with immigrants. Such attitudes are quite stable.

External factors can also contribute to changes in attitudes. Such as economic conditions, the level of immigration and the debate on immigration. The debate can again be influenced by events.

Infection control in focus

The corona crisis is one such event. It has great potential to influence attitudes in a negative direction. When it has nevertheless not helped to reverse the long-term positive trend, a plausible explanation may be that immigration was not a dominant concern among Norwegians and other Europeans during the pandemic.

The focus has been on infection control, health and the economy. Immigration and integration have admittedly been linked to these concerns. But the issue of immigration itself has not been the subject of much debate in the last two years.

A proper strategy

In Norway, we have had great openness about the over-representation of immigrants among the infected. The National Institute of Public Health (NIPH) was out early in 2020 with one report which stated that immigrants have more often detected infection and are more often admitted with covid-19 than the rest of the population. They also pointed to specific groups that were particularly hard hit, such as those born in Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Eritrea and Iran.

Later, FHI and others have followed up with more reports and more experience-based knowledge about the corona and the immigrant population. We also know that country of birth says a lot about vaccination status in Norway. There are large variations, but immigrants are less vaccinated than other Norwegians.

Sweeping problems under the rug weakens confidence. This leads to more suspicion and greater polarization.

FHI has in one chronicle in VG stated that they have received strong encouragement from several quarters to refrain from publishing country of birth for the infected, but that they have nevertheless chosen to share this information.

This is so that the measures are as targeted as possible. This has proven to be the right strategy. First and foremost for us as a society to become better at infection control, but this openness is also good for the debate itself.

Sweeping problems under the rug weakens confidence. This leads to more suspicion and greater polarization.

We need more knowledge

People react more negatively to political correctness than fact-based information. The immigration-critical alternative media have not had much to point out in this context.

A factor that is also worth mentioning is that immigrants have made a positive contribution during the corona crisis. Many of them have worked in the front line and in critical societal functions within the elderly care, the transport industry, the food industry and the cleaning industry.

We need more knowledge about the connection between the coronavirus, immigration and integration. The explanations for over-representation among the infected and unvaccinated must be as precise as possible. Both to be able to target the measures now, but also to prevent the same biases during any new pandemics.

In this connection, there are important lessons to be learned from the openness we have had in the last two years with the coronavirus.

Sober information that is not shared with a view to stigmatization, but in order to create the best possible policy, does not contribute to increased xenophobia.

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