Opinion & Analysis

Building community amidst COVID-19

With the spread of COVID-19, University of Auckland doctoral candidate Sarah Jane Lipura examines the anxiety many migrants and international students in New Zealand are feeling, and how their communities have come together and built resilience. 

We live in uncertain times.

As of this writing, more than 100,000 COVID-19 confirmed cases and around 3,000 deaths have been reported worldwide, while millions of people are affected daily by what is now a global health crisis.

New Zealand is not immune.

Public concern is high, but anxiety is doubled for migrants, including education migrants.

In a chatroom featuring international students coming from nearly a dozen countries, this anxiety is strongly felt, and articulated by critical questions around racism, safety, limitations in access to medical treatment and health care, housing, resources, visa, education and much more.

The highlighting of words such as ‘citizens’ and ‘permanent residents’ in news and official reports triggers feelings of insecurity and vulnerability, and also a longing for home.

But for many international students, the outbreak has made home inaccessible, especially in the Asian region, creating a condition of indefinite immobility. What does cross the border though, are the fears that there is nothing we can do.

However, real efforts on the ground by study abroad students confirm that there is something positive migrants can do despite being stuck in a ‘limbo’.

Migrants' voices not only empower marginal voices but also activate a sense of responsibility and mindfulness among migrant communities around the country.

A fellow international student, for example, has recently initiated an information drive in her church that provides up-to-date resources on coronavirus, useful for migrants who are not affiliated with formal institutions such as schools or regular workplaces in New Zealand. The intention is not to reinforce fear, but to impart knowledge on what to do for yourself and others.

News media reports have recently described how the virus has sparked behaviour in the community that ‘dehumanises’ others.

What is not widely documented, however, are ongoing initiatives in migrant groups that form chains of support amidst crisis. These include on-and offline campaigns by international students to mobilise resources for Chinese students with families directly affected by coronavirus; or Chinese international students, who are closing watching developments at home, sharing up-to-date information, not always reported in the media, with other international students and many migrant families

Studies in migrant behaviour have widely shown the power of migrant resilience. In times of crisis, we activate our faculties to weather unfavourable circumstances and in the process activate a powerful community without borders.

The challenges posed by the virus to the daily lives of migrant communities is diverse and a serious one. The key message, nevertheless, is that there is transformative power in precarity if we embrace and face it as a community.

After all, have we not always lived in uncertain times?

All views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

- Asia Media Centre