Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Idiots exploiting Ebola – Italian doctor sets them straight

Ebola has been a talking point in Italy as far back as April of this year, in particular for the various political parties that are campaigning for tougher immigration laws.

“We shouldn’t give time to these idiots that think Ebola will arrive in Italy by small boats loaded with desperate immigrants looking to cross the mediterranean. Much easier, and much more likely is that it will arrive in business class”

For at least the last ten years immigration has been at the centre of political debate in Italy; the country’s proximity to the North African coast makes it one of the main crossing points for asylum seekers and economic migrants (a perilous route that regularly produces disasters like the Lampedusa boat tragedy of 2013) coming into Europe; at the same time Italy’s economy has been devastated by a combination of global competition, bureaucracy, and corruption, and migrants are always an easy target for reactionary politics (after all, they don’t have votes).

What has this got to do with Ebola? Well, the Lega Nord party, for example, has repeatedly linked the risk of Ebola arriving in Italy with the ‘illegal’ immigrants crossing the Mediterranean. On the 6th of August party leader Matteo Salvini posted the following on his facebook page:

Patient with Ebola arrives in Spain, and it’s the first case in Europe. But Renzi [Italian prime minister] and Alfano [minster for the interior] continue with the suicide of Mare Nostrum*. Why? What do you think?

Salvini implied a risk coming from migrants in Italian waters, but the case in Spain had nothing to do with migrants (Spain of course has a similar problem with its borders); it was the case of a Spanish missionary brought back to Spain with Ebola for treatment.

In September Salvini again linked the issue, speaking in the European Parliament questioning whether, with the risk of Ebola, it wouldn’t be better to suspend the Mare Nostrum initiative and spend the money elsewhere. From his facebook page the same day he wrote

“Strasbourg, discussion of the Ebola alarm: the hall is deserted, Europe doesn’t give a toss… Italy should close its borders immediately to immigrants coming from contagious-risk zones, and to all clandestini [clandestine immigrants]”

And of course it’s not just political parties linking the threat of Ebola with unregulated immigration. In August an image was posted on Facebook, and subsequently shared over 26,000 times, claiming that three cases of Ebola had been identified on the island of Lampedusa (where, because of its proximity to Libya, many North African migrants arrive). The image was quickly revealed to be false – but it was just one of many in the period of August/September.

So, amidst growing fear – and more than a little xenophobia – how realistic is the suggestion that uncontrolled immigration from North Africa brings with it a major risk of Ebola contamination? On national television, during a discussion, Italian medic Gino Strada – speaking from Sierra Leone, where Strada’s organisation is at the forefront fighting Ebola – couldn’t have been more clear.

“We shouldn’t give time to these idiots that think Ebola will arrive in Italy by small boats loaded with desperate immigrants looking to cross the mediterranean. Much easier, and much more likely is that it will arrive in business class”

In the same program the point was made – the overland routes taken by migrants from the West African countries affected by Ebola, in order to reach Italy, typically take months culminating with the dangerous and phycially gruelling sea voyage. Ebola is not contagious during the incubation period, but only once symptoms display – at which point the disease is rapidly debilitating. Time and distance argue against the likelihood of the disease arriving in this manner.

Which is not to suggest the Strada and his colleagues are complacent in the face of Ebola. Speaking to newspapers in Italy, Strada when asked what needs to be done, was clear:

The West can do a lot, with economic resources, but also with human resources. This is an epidemci that if not stopped will become like AIDS. […] Again, we [the international community] are foccused solely on the arrival of Ebola in the north of the world and this isn’t an ethical reaction. There are estimates that calculate the progress of Ebola in hundreds of thousands of new victims. It’s the moment to react, everyone says so, but it needs do be done now, and with the knowledge that it will be an enormous challenge.


* Mare Nostrum is a military and humanitarian operation, brought in by the Italian Government in the wake of the 2013 Lampedusa Tragedy, in order to rescue migrants in open waters, and arrest the traffickers of immigrants.
1Malato di EBOLA arriva in Spagna, è il primo caso in Europa. Ma Renzi e Alfano continuano col suicidio di Mare Nostrum. Perché secondo voi?
2Strasburgo, discussione sull’allarme Ebola: l’aula è deserta, l’Europa se ne frega… L’Italia dovrebbe chiudere subito le frontiere agli immigrati provenienti dalle zone a rischio contagio, e a tutti i clandestini!
3 “Non bisogna dare spazio a questi imbecili che pensano che l’Ebola arrivera in Italia con i barconi con immigrati disperati che cerca di traversare il meditteraneo. Molto piu facile, molto piu probabile arrivera in business class”
4) “L’Occidente può fare tanto, con risorse economiche ma anche umane. Questa è un’epidemia che se non viene fermata diventerà come l’Aids. Per il momento la cooperazione inglese ci sta aiutando molto e anche il governo della Sierra Leone collabora anche se con le sue limitate possibilità. Ma ci vorrebbe molto di più. Ripeto, siamo focalizzati solo sull’arrivo di Ebola nel nord del mondo e questo non mi sembra un ragionamento etico. Ci sono stime che calcolano l’avanzata dell’Ebola in centinaia di migliaia di nuove vittime. E’ il momento di agire, questo lo dicono tutti, ma va fatto subito e con la coscienza che sarà uno sforzo enorme.

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