Bioethics Blogs

Epidemics and Xenophobia by A. David Napier

In June 2015 The Bellagio Task Force on Epidemics and Xenophobia met to discuss the resurgence of xenophobia across the globe—one most recently prompted by fearful and unsympathetic responses to the Ebola epidemic and those afflicted communities and healthcare workers who returned home. The problem of xenophobia is however part of a much larger and pernicious problem, one that falls most heavily on global migrants and stateless peoples. Thus, we ask for co-signers worldwide to support the following statement.

Statement on Epidemics and Xenophobia

Given the recent resurgence of xenophobia across the globe, and especially the increasing inability and unwillingness of governing bodies to assist the rising numbers of those in need, we the undersigned ask that decision-makers worldwide take concerted action to provide stateless peoples with human rights protection and to desist in treating them as potential bearers of disease.

We maintain that the current reticence of governments and citizens to acknowledge the tragic human rights needs of stateless peoples has been fuelled historically not only by ethnocentrism, but by the improper attribution of blame for infection and contagion—social and biological—to outsiders and foreigners. The connection between disease and xenophobia is deeply entrenched, making an underprivileged foreign location or population ground zero for every illness outbreak and related social ill.

The damaging connection of foreigners with danger and disease relies on false analogies based on biological and social models that promote racial apprehension and fear of the foreign. New images of border patrols wearing hygienic masks make clear that countries continue in the belief that the poor and desperate are carriers of cultural and biological infection, and that such people are profoundly threatening to citizens and national homelands.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.