Dubai: Chinese expat parents are calling for more tolerance and compassion after some of them have complained that their children are being bullied or ostracised in schools and play areas because of unfounded scaremongering over the spread of coronavirus.
Sharing her story with Gulf News, Queenie Lin, said: “Last week, I took my three-year-old son to play in the community playground when a seven-year-old girl came to us and asked if we are from China.
“I smiled at the girl and replied yes, and introduced my boy (who is a mixed race, Chinese-Maltese). The girl then asked if there is a virus in China. I felt awkward but answered yes and assured her that authorities are taking control. She retorted: Is that why you moved here?”
Lin, a Dubai resident for 10 years and whose son was born in Dubai, said she was taken aback.
“The girl left but it did not end there as when my son played with other boys, the same girl returned and told the other boys: ‘He is Chinese, stay away from him’,” added Lin, who first shared her experience with a local radio station.
“I was so heartbroken. I brought my son immediately home and burst into tears,” said Lin, who is also seven months pregnant with her second child.
Lin, who is originally from Wuhan (where the virus originated), lamented the lack of understanding about coronavirus. “It’s not fair for all Chinese or anyone of Chinese-Asian descent to get all the blame and be disliked,” she said.
Lin said she did not blame the girl for her remarks but the adults who may have instilled fear in her and other kids.
Taking the side of Lin, an anti-bullying advocate and university professor told Gulf News: “There is no known cure or vaccine yet for coronavirus but we can lessen its impact by healing the wounds of social prejudice.”
Dr. Rommel Sergio, from the Faculty of Psychology and Management at Canadian University Dubai, added: “Stereotyping and bullying spread like wildfire. It is unfortunate to see how a particular expat community is being treated in line with the subject of coronavirus. We can always be kind and create a non-discriminatory environment. This is the only way towards tolerance, which the UAE is a leading advocate.
“Moreover, we should consider the long term adverse effects on children being stereotyped and bullied,” he added.
Jo Lee, a UK-born Chinese businesswoman residing in Dubai for the past 13 years, echoed the same sentiments. She said her older son, who is studying in a British curriculum school in Dubai, also experienced being ostracised in school because of his lineage and physical features.
This coronavirus is actually a good opportunity for people living in Dubai to set an example about tolerance and compassion - then we will set a sterling example for the rest of the world to follow.
“Initially my son thought it was just silly. He was born and raised in Dubai and he has never been to China.
“But some kids in school are avoiding him. And the situation is made worse by the viral social media which is more dangerous than the coronavirus itself because it is spreading panic, misunderstanding and prejudice against one race,” Lee shared.
“Some comments may have started as joke and they sounded funny but there is a risk that these are continuously shared. It’s the same situation in 2003 when the Chinese diaspora was ostracised worldwide for the SARS virus,” she explained.
Lee continued: “We need more public display of support and more people should take a stand against xenophobia (dislike or prejudice against other people/ race). Parents in particular should teach their children the ill effects of racial profiling and perpetuating stereotypes.
“I teach my kids to be more empathetic. I told them to understand that people are different and we should be more understanding. This coronavirus is actually a good opportunity for people living in Dubai to set an example about tolerance and compassion - then we will set a sterling example for the rest of the world to follow,” she added.