26 March 2020

COVID-19 provokes xenophobia in East Timor

Minister for Legislative Reform and
Parliamentary Affairs Fidelis Magalhães 
LUSA reported on 24 instant that the Minister for Legislative Reform and Parliamentary Affairs Fidelis Magalhães regretted “isolated” cases of intimidation of foreign nationals in the country because of the misperception that COVID-19 is a disease carried by foreigners.

“I am very sorry to hear of these things happening. The government will make every effort to contain and end these isolated acts. We have to encourage and promote more the spirit of solidarity, especially in the face of these difficult issues,” he said.

Several foreign nationals have in recent days reported to Lusa incidents, none of them serious, in which they were intimidated by locals, including the use of the expression “korona malae”, the second word being commonly used to refer to foreigners.

On 23 March 2020, Lusa reports also that several Chinese traders in East Timor felt obliged to close their shops due to intimidation, despite the fact that the Chinese business community in Timor had organised a fundraiser to support families affected by the 13 March floods in the capital.

Similar intimidation was also felt in Baucau, the country’s second city, by teachers from Portugal stationed there, prompting Portugal’s ambassador to order them to go to Dili.

Among reports by teachers were a series of false  rumours circulating over the weekend that tried to relate the first confirmed case of COVID-19 and another suspected in or arising from Baucau to malae.

In 2004, then President Gusmao has called on members of the legal system to "strip themselves of all kinds of xenophobia," adding that East Timor's development depends "on a policy of openness to foreign investment and on the application of a justice system that is honest, impartial and professional."[1]

[1] Countries at the Crossroads 2004 - East Timor, 2004, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/473868f0c.html [accessed 26 March 2020]

See also on ETLJB Government presented to the National Parliament the contingency plan to prevent the coronavirus outbreak

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