A new survey has found that nearly one in two people in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Pakistan blame specific groups for spreading COVID-19, including migrants.
Released on Thursday, the study by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said 49 percent of the almost 5,000 people surveyed think a particular group is responsible for the spread of the new coronavirus, with many mentioning Chinese people, immigrants and foreigners.
People attending religious ceremonies and people who are not following rules such as wearing masks or maintaining physical distance were also cited.
Viviane Fluck, one of the lead researchers and the agency’s Asia Pacific community engagement and accountability coordinator, described the findings as “alarming”.
“We are very concerned that vulnerable groups such as migrants and those who cannot afford protective equipment such as masks may be discriminated against due to stigma and fear rising from these views.”
Fluck said engagement with communities must be stepped up “to address harmful misinformation that hinders efforts to contain this pandemic”.
The survey also found nearly four out of five people distrust social media, despite it being one of the leading sources of information about the coronavirus pandemic.
More than half of the Indonesians surveyed blamed “foreigners and rule-breakers”, while in Myanmar the groups most often thought to be responsible were people from China and other foreigners.
In Malaysia, two-thirds blamed a “specific group”, most frequently mentioning migrants, foreign tourists and “illegal foreigners”, the researchers said.
Malaysian authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented migrants and refugees in May in a crackdown the United Nations said could push vulnerable groups into hiding and prevent them from seeking treatment.
Police said at the time the operation was aimed at preventing people from travelling amid movement curbs.
In Pakistan, most people surveyed blamed inadequate government controls on the Iranian border, followed by nationals including pilgrims coming back from Iran and then people from China.
In all four countries, higher education had a small impact on whether respondents blamed a specific group, with university graduates slightly less likely to hold certain people responsible, the researchers said.