Refugees amid Coronavirus Outbreak: In “Dire” Condition
By: Uca Cendana
and the rest of it
wrapped around me.
Bedding far beyond humble,
far less than a rug to sleep on.
The tiles are cold and humid,
My torn backpack is my pillow.
The poetry was taken from The Red Ribbon, a book by Abdul Sama Haidari showcasing the life of a refugee, portraying the conditions of refugees and asylum seekers all over the world that have walked barefoot over sharp rocks and on hard paths, merely to seek peace and hope in other countries. Many of them have fled poverty, conflicts, and wars in their countries of origin but then find themselves stranded in the middle of another set of conflicts and threats in other countries. They, by all means, are always vulnerable in any situation.
The world nowadays is facing an unprecedented condition that changes the earth to be “quieter” during protective self-quarantine. Coronavirus outbreak, as we can see, has massively affected social and economic lives worldwide. It does not only attack particular layers of society, but all layers from all spheres have fallen to their lowest position. Then, who are mostly affected by this covid-19 crisis? The answer is definitely those who have been vulnerable even before the coronavirus outbreak emerges: the poor, including minority groups which include refugees and asylum seekers.
Coronavirus case was firstly confirmed in China and it has since spread to many countries in less than 2 months, not to mention countries with a large number of refugees and asylum seekers. Libya, the host of about 700,000 refugees and migrants has so far reported 17 confirmed cases, including one death. The country is facing continuous bloody conflict that displaces 150,000 people and causes financial crisis and basic needs shortage. The coronavirus outbreak has worsened the situation there, even said to be “truly catastrophic” by the refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in the country. It might be regarded as such as they currently live in overcrowded detention centers with unsanitary condition and limited access to health assistance and information. A media even portrays the condition as “dire”, as hundreds of people are being locked in crowded hangars with limited access to basic rights. Moreover, the epidemic has forced people to do “social distancing” as well as to concern more on personal hygiene and access to information about the coronavirus and ways to prevent it. This “dire” condition with no possibility of social distancing may lead the refugees in Libya to easily contract covid-19.
Another “dire” condition also happens in Lebanon with 479 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed, including 14 deaths as of April 1. In attempt to combat Covid-19, some Lebanese municipalities have imposed restrictions on Syrian refugees movement, and even implemented extra curfews to Syrian refugees. The problem is that the restrictions on Syrian refugees exceed those that the government has imposed on the general population in the country, Human Rights Watch said. The extra curfews for Syrian refugees provokes pros and cons. Those who disagree believe the discriminative restriction will not reduce the spread of covid-19 because coronavirus certainly does not discriminate race, gender, or religions. And just like the refugees in Libya, the refugees in Lebanon lack access to health care and information on how to prevent themselves from the infectious disease.
In effort to ‘flatten the curve’ of the spread of covid-19, many countries have strengthened their migration policies by tightening borders and strengthening travel restrictions that clearly impact refugees and migrants in general. Most countries are prompted to take steps further reducing population movement that affects humanitarian sector worldwide. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR announced that resettlement travel for refugees is temporarily suspended, although the agencies have appealed states to ensure emergency cases are exempted. Another impact to refugees is the least chance of resettlement and the most chance of refoulement, with asylum seekers being returned to their countries. These impacts are heartbreaking news for refugees and asylum seekers considering that refoulement means they have to be returned to the risky condition that might put them in persecution and in a breach of international laws.
The world’s attention on Covid-19 and refugee issues are being less highlighted that even some refugees are discriminated in some countries in the couple of months. Nevertheless, some NGOs and International Organizations working with refugees and humanitarian issues do not lose sight of the needs of millions of refugees. UNHCR and IOM representatives in Venezuela, for example, urge international communities to boost their supports for refugees and to critically revise all operations to prioritize protection and life-saving actions through The Regional Platform in close coordination with WHO-PAHO. The action ensures that refugees will be able to access information related to Covid-19, get clean water, soap and appropriate waste disposal. These forms of attentions are also being implemented by UNHCR in various countries, such as Indonesia. They are coordinating with Indonesian government to ensure the refugees are included in the Covid-19 national response system so the refugees in Indonesia can access Covid-19 related services including testing and treatment without any discrimination. Some NGOs also provide information on preventive measures, emergency contacts during covid-19, and aids such as raw foods to the refugee communities.
Although the impact of covid-19 towards refugees may be considered as horrible in some countries and the further impact may be heartbreaking for them since the attempts to reduce population movement may continue after coronavirus outbreak, the refugees may not lose hope. There are always people who care for them and be able to advocate their basic rights, and ensure them that they will receive the same rights as other human beings.
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