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Young South Sudanese leaders share pain of unfounded COVID blame

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While the accusations have a long tail and are not easily erased, Ms Anyieth says the real hurt is the presumption of wrongdoing, carelessness or foolishness on the part of the whole; the promotion, again, of otherness.

“It’s heartbreaking to see to information published that places stigma on a community that is part of Australia, that is also struggling and that is also affected by coronavirus,” she says.

“For me, it stems from an ongoing history of racially profiling certain communities and it’s not what we, as a society, need at the moment.”

It has since been revealed that a large number of the new infections are linked to the state government’s failed hotel quarantine system.

People, including leaders from migrant communities, have also said pandemic restrictions and dangers could have been have been better communicated to linguistically diverse populations.

For the record, Ms Anyieth says she is neither aware of illicit South Sudanese mass gatherings, nor second-wave COVID clusters within families.

“People are quite informed – more than you think,” she says. “People know what’s going on. They understand the gravity of this disease and they know the restrictions.

Another young South Sudanese leader, 30-year-old Achut Thuc, believes the accusations levelled at her community is another example that “people are bothered by our existence in Australia”.

“Some will find any excuse to target us or present us in a negative light,” she says.

“Most people are actually following the rules just like the rest of the Australian population. We haven’t been having any community events – and we come from a community where we celebrate a lot.”

Both women work in outreach for community healthcare provider Cohealth, whose chief executive Nicole Bartholomeusz has called out the recent coverage and social media dog-whistling “for what it is – racism”.

“Laying blame at the feet of people who are already highly marginalised is especially damaging at a time when we need to be engaging all people to comply with testing and lockdown measures,” Ms Bartholomeusz says.

She notes many people from ethnic and linguistically diverse communities work low-paid, casual jobs often at the frontlines of healthcare, transportation and food supply, where self-isolation or social distancing could be difficult or impossible.

“People from migrant backgrounds, including refugees and asylum seekers, are more likely to be living on a low income, have insecure or poor quality housing, and less access to healthcare. These are conditions not of their choosing, but have an enormous impact on their health,” she says.

“It is time we put aside divisive conversations about race and ethnicity, and focussed on the job of overcoming a health pandemic that has killed half a million people globally and rising.”

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