Trapped in a pandemic: the impact of Coronavirus on Refugees

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of NBC

In the UK, we have gone past the stage of trying to merely contain the coronavirus COVID-19. The aim now is to prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible and the NHS will be dealing with a number of patients to avoid inundation. Preventable measures include (especially in continental European governmental advice): avoiding visiting older relatives or people more medically vulnerable, large gatherings, unnecessary travel, and taking extra precautions on public transport. Other essential advice is to self-isolate oneself when one shows signs of the virus: persistent cough, high temperature or shortness of breath and focus on frequent washing of one’s hands. The typical UK resident (especially the majority of our student readers) will be able to follow governmental advice in the pursuit of slowing down the spread of the virus. We are fortunate as a society that it is the vast preponderance of those in society who can take effective measures to respond to the outbreak. However, those in refugee camps to are unable to take such measures.

In the Moria camp (on the Greek island of Lesbos), 26,000 people are living in a camp designed for just 2,800. This is over nine times its capacity and nearly half the camp is made up of children. The result is overcrowding and a great scarcity for resources. There is a lack of facilities for washing, food, water, hygiene and medical care, meaning social distancing and any hope of sanitary conditions are therefore impossible. As of 13 March 2020, there are hitherto no cases of COVID-19 in the camp, but an understanding of the dire conditions in these camps brings to light how devastating the potential for spread and fatalities among the vulnerable might be.

Europe’s governments have not helped refugees to the extent that they should. They are dealing with the crisis as a burden to be passed on rather than as seeing it as fulfilment of collective duty in helping out vulnerable individuals who are in dire need of help. Europe has for too long brushed its duty under the carpet rather than responding satisfactorily to this crisis in humanity. Instead, they have a closed-minded approach of limiting responsibility to certain borders and pushing those away who seem too far away. Europe’s neglect of refugees who come looking for help is nothing new; it has gone on for years.

The emergence of the coronavirus threat is not an opportunity to justify xenophobic treatment to refugees. It is an opportunity to reflect on the fortunate circumstances that many (though not everyone) in our society find ourselves in; such fortunate circumstances are presently at a great distance from everyone in the refugee camps. If anything positive were to come from this time of panic, it would be for politicians to be held to account: for them to feel compelled to offer expansion of resources to those in the refugee camps, to reform the asylum process with the view to treating applicants humanely, welcoming and integrating many more people into one’s society—instead of playing pass the parcel. It is already clear where that childish has game has currently ended up.