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Migrants could become the new Covid scapegoats when Europe's borders reopen

   March 10, 2021 11:11 PM
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by Luke McGee, CNN

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Covid-19 Migrants
(CNN)With Europe's vaccine rollout creeping forward, attention is turning to what will happen when the continent's borders reopen. Where this debate could get particularly fraught is over the thorny issue of migration.

Last weekend, populist Euroskeptic Nigel Farage, whom many credit with making Brexit happen, tweeted about a "Covid crisis in Dover," baselessly claiming that a boat carrying migrants had landed in southeast England, "with 12 on board and they all tested positive for the virus." The UK government took the unusual step of directly responding to Farage's tweet, with the Home Office replying: "This is incorrect. None of these 12 people tested positive for Covid-19. All adults who arrived today have been tested for Covid-19."

Twitter has since removed Farage's original tweet, for violating the site's rules. CNN asked Farage to comment on the matter, but he declined to respond. A Home Office official told CNN that while the suggestion migrants are spreading the coronavirus is a "fringe opinion," they are concerned about people with large groups of followers -- like Farage -- amplifying this false message. And they noted that Farage's tweet got a lot more interaction from Twitter users than their reply correcting it. Farage has form for using the plight of migrants to further his political ambition. During the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016, his group famously unveiled a poster showing a long line of people -- supposedly migrants -- alongside the slogan: "BREAKING POINT: The EU has failed us all."

In the months leading up to the referendum, Europe had seen a huge influx of refugees desperate to flee conflict in the Middle East, particularly Syria. Defending the poster, Farage made a direct link between migration from Syria and terrorism, saying: "When ISIS say they will use the migrant crisis to flood the continent with their jihadi terrorists, they probably mean it." The poster -- which obscured the only prominent White person in the original image -- was subsequently reported to the police for inciting racial hatred. The photographer who captured the shot, at the border between Slovenia and Croatia in 2015, said the poster "betrayed" the people pictured. Farage is not alone in his attempts to spread misinformation suggesting a link between Covid and migrants.

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