Deprioritised in the health response: fragility of refugees in the Middle East and North Africa region during the COVID-19 pandemic
Jasmin Lilian Diab and Dana Nabulsi, American University of Beirut, Lebanon
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has experienced a massive influx of refugees and internally displaced persons over the last decade with Jordan and Lebanon currently home to the highest number of refugees per capita worldwide. In Jordan there are 657,000 UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees and in Lebanon there are 1.7 million refugees including 1.5 million from Syria – with unregistered migrants putting that number somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million refugees. A number of refugees live in heavily populated camps or impoverished regions with poorer health, water, sanitation and hygiene facilities making preventive measures in these areas and throughout these camps, such as regular access to water and basic sanitation and hygiene, social distancing and self-quarantine, very challenging to implement. As a result, the situation for refugees amid COVID-19 is exceptionally challenging in Jordan and Lebanon in terms of access to health services and opportunities to obtain legal work permits amid large-scale unemployment exacerbated by the pandemic. In conflict-ridden areas, where health systems are already fragile and medical resources are scarce, refugees lack adequate access to both detection mechanisms and necessary medical attention, rendering it almost impossible to assess the prevalence of the pandemic and track its spread. It is evident at this stage in the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic that it has rendered humanitarian and conflict-affected areas especially vulnerable and finding ways to integrate migrants and refugees, regardless of their formal/legal standing, in national development and rescue plans for tackling the virus is essential toward preventing the pandemic from spreading in refugee camps.
Ala Uddin, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh
While many countries were taking necessary measures to fight the coronavirus, Bangladeshi leaders were largely in denial of the magnitude of the pandemic and were busy making speeches in line with this tune until around mid-March 2020. As we watched the virus spread across China, Europe and America, we were continuously reassured that, like other flus (e.g. Swine flu, SARS, Ebola or Zika), coronavirus would not hit Bangladesh. Despite these delusions, the first COVID-19 patient was eventually confirmed on 8 March 2020, with the first death following only ten days later. Time and again, we were assured that 'we are prepared enough to fight against the virus', and that it is 'like flu, not serious diseases'. However, even as COVID-19 was being brushed off, weariness and mistrust was already building against migrant workers, foreign travelers and other outsiders as they were quickly blamed for bringing COVID-19 into Bangladesh — an attribution that has resulted in both internal and returning migrants experiencing ‘Otherness’ in their own society.
Mattias De Backer, Université de Liège, Belgium
This contribution is based on the testimonies of about 25 frontline workers who, despite the dangers associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, have continued to support vulnerable groups including: undocumented migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, young people in special youth care, homeless people, and overall, people in poverty. This research is part of a European, HERA-funded research project on 'The everyday experiences of young refugees and asylum-seekers in public space'.
'Invisible people': the working and living conditions of undocumented immigrants in Jordan during the COVID-19 crisis
Cevdet Acu, University of Exeter, UK
While the coronavirus has spread indiscriminately across the world, the negative effects have been felt differently, as COVID-19 has amplified conditions for some of the most vulnerable groups which, in Jordan, are mainly undocumented immigrant workers. Workers can lose legal status when they leave a permitted job for one in an underground economy, or become irregular workers because their visas allow residence but not employment. Undocumented workers are not fully protected by the legal regulations and are frequently exploited by employers through wage theft, sexual harassment and unsafe working environments. Unfair treatment such as low pay, inhumane work hours and denied payment for working overtime are regular occurrences in their lives, but beyond this, undocumented workers must now grapple with fears of transmitting COVID-19 and the restrictions that have come with it.
Anjali Karol Mohan, India
'As in the photo of the daal packet, it is reassuring to see that there are civil society organisations that are promoting the message of equality especially during this time of crisis'.
Prior to COVID-19 taking centre stage as a global pandemic, a two-part seminar series called 'The "Southern Tilt" in the Urban Embedded Wisdom and Cultural Specificity as Pathways to Planning' was held in Colombia and India. The series sought to evolve planning approaches and methods to shape city futures in Latin America, Asia and Africa, geographies that promise to be the future of urbanisation. The main objective was to establish relevant and appropriate vocabularies, methods and processes to comprehend, steer and manage the emerging urban. Animated discussions on informality, migration, housing, land, displacement and conditions of displaceability had, in my opinion, made for a successful seminar. Six weeks later, however, while the discussions seem to be woefully inadequate in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, the objectives of the series could not have been more pertinent.
Identities COVID-19 Blog Series
Explore expert commentaries curated by Identities on the dynamics between displaced migration and COVID-19.