The Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD)/ International Organisation for Migrants (IOM) held its regional webinar with the Media’s Role in Addressing Social Stigma towards Migrants and Refugees in the context of COVID pandemic as its final day’s discussion on 26th of November 2020.
Lilianne Fan, Co-Founder and International Director of the Geutanyoe Foundation, calls for journalists to be on the ground and see the issues that are happening surrounding the refugees as she sees a lot of it was misinterpreted, which then stigmatised the voiceless even further. Taking the Tabligh cluster outbreak as an example, where there were undocumented migrants involved, the group became the scapegoat when the stories needed a subject to be blamed. This then resulted in the migrants to be afraid of seeking help to protect themselves from COVID-19.
Jerald Joseph, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM)’s Commissioner, shared few images and stories on the refugees that have more sides and narratives to put out, addressing the challenges that includes limitation for the press to report direct and transparent news just as limited as migrants of choices, documented and undocumented alike. He cited the confined space the migrants were allowed living by tenants or employers providing little to no social distancing which then resulted to a disease infestation.
On the positive light shed on reporting about migrants in local reports, Azrul Mohd Khalib, Chief Executive at the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy said, “While there are heartwarming stories during the pandemic that surfaced, it is easily overwhelmed with the negative ones due to the instilled stigmas in the society”.
The session ended with host Malarvili Meganathan quoting UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to unleash a tsunami of hate, xenophobia, scapegoating and scaremongering and we have to strengthen the unity of our societies against the virus of hate.”