By Irene Lopez-Marin
Coronavirus has painfully come to teach us something. To teach us that the world is global. To teach the North about equality and about privilege, about the balance of importance between economies and human life. Coronavirus has come to show us the true colours of our governments. It has come to teach us about the need to take care of our Planet Earth. This virus is teaching us about being more empathetic, ethical, and about social responsibility. Coronavirus has come to make us stop, to make a change in our way of living, but more specifically, it has come to make a change in ourselves. It is unfortunate, however, that despite the learning experience that we could acquire due to this human emergency, we are still navel-gazing, and our eyes remain shut to important issues.
COVID-19 is showing us the inequality in our society. Apart from the elderly population and people with pre-existing health conditions, the most marginalised sectors (poor, working class, refugees and asylum seekers) of our society are paying harshly once again the consequences of economic inequality and power (Fisher and Bubola, 2020). A clear example of this is the speed that several politicians or members of the monarchy received tests for coronavirus, even before health care professionals, who face the virus every day (Good Morning Britain, 2020).
In the safe space of our home, despite the continuous coronavirus information from the news, we are able to distance ourselves from the reality of this virus. The most vulnerable people are experiencing the worst of this situation, with no clean water, and no access to sanitation or health care (Reuters, 2020). You might be able to escape war, persecution of your religious beliefs or your sexual preferences, but how do you escape a virus? Many refugees and asylum seekers have fled from these challenges to find themselves stuck instead with an inescapable virus. This is the reason we need to open a discussion around immigration policies and their current influence during Coronavirus.
According to article 25, from the United Nations: ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.’ Similarly, the UN sustainable development goal number 6 aim to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. With Coronavirus, there has been time, effort and money to build hospitals around the world in record time. I am not criticising this. However, we must not ignore the fact that no time, effort or money was being used as quickly to provide better living standards, asylum or citizenship rights to many refugees and asylum seekers when no Coronavirus was present. Coronavirus is here to test goal number 6, to check that Human Rights are applied to everyone, to observe the progress which has been made until now and to question if this goal will be achieved in 10 years’ time.
Before Coronavirus, immigration policies were mainly based on the concept of nationalism and membership rights (Tambini, 2001; Tarozzi and Torres, 2016). Many EU members states’ approach to refugees entering their countries have been one of rejection, such as by obstructing rescue efforts by NGOs, increasing the number of deaths, or by constructing family immigration detention centres in 2018 in Belgium (Human Rights Watch, 2018). These examples demonstrate the low position of importance that these groups of people have in society, and the neglect they face in the decisions taken to manage this ‘crisis’.
COVID-19 is now used as another excuse to not let ‘illegal people’ inside a country since they are putting in danger ‘the protection of our community’ (Malnick, 2020). I am not suggesting here that movement of people during Coronavirus should be allowed, but there are still planes flying in our skies. What is the difference then? The difference is that before the epidemic, refugees and asylum seekers were perceived as a terrorist ‘threat’ to our national security, our cultural and national cohesion and our welfare and health systems (Berry, García-Blanco and Moore, 2015) and now, they are also perceived as a ‘threat’ by bringing COVID-19 to ‘our privileged people’, putting our lives at risk.
These people, living in the shadow of society, are faced with both Coronavirus and our privilege bubble at the same time. During the Coronavirus situation, Western immigration policies and governments’ approaches have not changed much, but it has clearly demonstrated its true colours. Since 27th of February, there has not been any boat rescue from the Mediterranean Sea, leading to more deaths (D’Ignoti, 2020). These deaths have never felt as important as those from Coronavirus, which I bet it could reach the same number levels. However, the difference is obvious. Coronavirus is affecting ‘us’, the privileged, directly (Robino and Pais, 2020).
Although asylum seekers and refugees will not be asked to leave the government accommodation in the UK, there are many delays taking place relating to their applications and interviews, and people in detention centres are not being released (Free Movement, 2020). Positive approaches have been taking place in Ireland and Portugal, where migrants can access health care and ‘all asylum seekers and undocumented migrants who have pending residence applications can automatically access state support’ (Goodfellow, 2020).
European doctors have written an urgent appeal to show their concerns about refugee camps safety during the Coronavirus crisis, suggesting that ‘if Europe looks away now, this situation could escalate to become a medical disaster and this would represent a serious violation of the norms and values of European health care’ (French Press Agency, 2020). I argue, though, that the mindset of people who have not changed for years during the ‘refugee crisis’, will not be changed now when their countries are too worried about their economy, their Capitalism virus (Rivers Pitt, 2020), and about how THEY, and THEY alone, are going to survive this.
In conclusion, we will face many other challenges, but we will never be totally successful approaching them by not including everyone, because ‘no one is protected unless everyone is protected’ (Batha, 2020).
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Article by Irene Lopez-Marin
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Kairos Europe, its partners or their employees.