Refugees out in the cold as coronavirus stalks
The marginalised ones have been weakened further as the coronavirus reaches pandemic levels.
By Christiane Waked
Published: Tue 17 Mar 2020, 8:00 PM
Last updated: Tue 17 Mar 2020, 10:17 PM
The world is gearing to protect and isolate itself in quarantine modes. Citizens globally are indulging in frenetic buying and hoarding food, sanitisers, toilet papers, and anything they can think of as they prepare to shut doors and sit in the comfort of their homes to protect themselves from viral infection. But then there are scores of homeless people and refugees who do not have such luxury. The marginalised ones have been weakened further as the coronavirus reaches pandemic levels. They are more vulnerable to infection due to the lack of supply of medicine, food, and other bare essentials.
The world must pause and think about these people. If people in cities are thinking quarantine is too much to handle, they should spare a thought for millions of Syrians whose lives have been quarantined for almost a decade. Palestinians have been suffering the same plight under siege in Gaza.
Millions of Syrians have been forced to take shelter in far away land, or run away from their homes and live on the streets. Ongoing civil war has reduced the country to a war zone, and displaced millions. They have been running from one place to another, and most of the time are not welcomed anywhere.
It happened again in Greece recently, when thousands of refugees and migrants were trying to enter the country to seek asylum. They were beaten, shooed away with tear gas.
Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan who had struck a deal with the European Union to stem the flow of refugees from Turkey to Europe has warned that he would keep Turkey's border open for refugees. It is not for any love and empathy for refugees. The president is trying to seek concessions from the EU and score some points among his people in Turkey.
Let down by the Greek forces and rejected by Turkey, some refugees are stranded in between borders. They have no where to go, no one to look up to for assistance. Human rights violation are happening right in front of our eyes as Syrians battle it for their lives, their future on their own. Refugees who were already in Greece have been sent to overcrowded camps on various Greek islands. Such places can be fertile grounds for the spread of virus.
And now as European countries are shutting down their borders to contain the spread of the virus, it could have severe repurcussions for the refugees. Many could fall into the trap of smugglers, who are always on the prowl for people willing to make risky journeys to foreign lands in the faint hope of a better future.
Countries that are hosting refugees need a plan to combat Covid-19. It is extremely necessary for countries with high concentration of refugees to put in place a plan that includes infection prevention and control, health promotion, rapid case identification, isolation, and management of non-severe cases, and treatment of serious and critical cases.
This pandemic must be a wake up call for all. It is an empathy challenge that puts humanity at test.
European countries must put pressure on Turkey to stop immediately its illegal intervention in Syria and pull out all its forces to facilitate the peace process and implement a constitution that brings together all Syrians and help refugees go back to their homeland where they can contribute to the reconstruction of the country. The West must also help bring back peace to Syria where the risk of the virus propagation is higher than other countries due to war. Covid-19 virus that is now a real threat to humanity and all countries must help each others contain it.
The West must also help countries like Lebanon that is now officially bankrupt with medical supplies. It needs help to provide refugee camps with basic necessities such as soap, blankets and food.
With a population of about four million, Lebanon hosts the greatest concentration of refugees per capita in the world (more than 40 per cent of the demographic mass of Lebanon). Needless to say, this has created an overwhelming pressure on the country's resources, utilities, and potential.
Even before the spread of coronavirus, Lebanon was facing a crisis in the healthcare space. Medical supplies and medicine were running out, and now Lebanon could face a real humanitarian crisis that could cost the lives of many. The current health crisis is a lesson in humility that teaches us that our strength is in our unity. Let us stay united and help the world heal together.
Christiane Waked is a political analyst based in Beirut