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How the coronavirus outbreak could hit refugees and migrants

‘The healthiest and wealthiest are the ones that tend to migrate. The ones left behind are poorer and sicker.’

Paramilitary soldiers wear face masks as they stand in front of a closed gate at Pakistan's border post in Taftan.
Paramilitary soldiers wear face masks as they stand in front of a closed gate at Pakistan’s border post in Taftan. Pakistan sealed its border with Iran as a preventive measure following the coronavirus outbreak. (Naseer Ahmed/Reuters)

A surge in coronavirus cases outside China has raised concerns the outbreak could be particularly devastating for vulnerable refugee and migrant populations in countries hobbled by conflict.

Over the last week, cases of the illness known as Covid-19 have escalated dramatically in Iran, and new infections linked to the cluster have emerged in more than half a dozen other countries in the region including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon.

At least 12 million refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) live between Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey – countries linked to Iran by either frequent travel, irregular migration routes, shared borders, or all three. Iran itself hosts nearly one million refugees, mostly from neighbouring Afghanistan, and an estimated 1.5 to two million undocumented people.

The effects of armed conflict “fragment the public health system and the infrastructure that enables governments to actively perform surveillance of diseases”, said Dr. Mohammed Jawad, a researcher at Imperial College London who studies the impact of conflict on public health.

Dr. Adam Coutts, a public health specialist at Cambridge University who focuses on the Middle East, said refugees are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus or other diseases, due to ”high geographical mobility, instability, living in overcrowded conditions, lack of sanitation and WASH (waters, sanitation and hygiene) facilities, and lack of access to decent healthcare or vaccination programmes in host communities”.

But refugee populations are often left out of disaster and epidemic preparedness planning at the best of times. And simply reaching marginalised refugees and migrants with information is also a challenge.

Politicians in Italy and Greece have already started using the spectre of asylum seekers and migrants carrying the virus across international borders to drum up support for hardline migration policies. But public health experts believe the real risk is to refugee and migrant communities themselves, who face instability, sporadic access to healthcare, and now the growing threat of stigmatisation.

READ  Libya: New evidence shows refugees and migrants trapped in horrific cycle of abuses

“The healthiest and wealthiest are the ones that tend to migrate,” Jawad said. “The ones left behind are poorer and sicker.”

Impact of conflict and displacement

Borders throughout the Middle East already tend to be porous, with refugees, economic migrants, and others often travelling along informal routes. Countries affected by war can have a hard time monitoring who is entering and leaving their territory, according to Jawad. But the biggest challenge to an effective coronavirus response is the region’s weak or broken public health systems.

“The best way to control coronavirus is through what we call contact tracing,” Jawad said. “That is finding out who you’ve been meeting, who you’ve been interacting with, and providing advice – sometimes advice to self-isolate, but certainly hygiene advice – to really drum that home with the relevant people.”

That may be difficult to do in parts of the Middle East. Refugees and IDPs often don’t have fixed places to live, and authorities might not know how to contact them or have the capacity to coordinate a response. Governments may not prioritise healthcare services for refugees and IDPs, especially in countries like Lebanon where many refugees live in dismal conditions and there is strong anti-refugee sentiment among national authorities.

The situation also differs between countries. Turkey, for example, has a robust healthcare system, Coutts said, but “Iraq and Lebanon have severely weak public health systems due to conflict and political neglect, and are not able to adequately monitor what is going on and provide a robust public health response”.

In Syria, nearly a million people have fled towards the Turkish border as government forces – backed by Russian airstrikes – have advanced on the last opposition-held enclave in the country. Even without the added factor of coronavirus, the humanitarian suffering caused by the advance has overwhelmed aid efforts.

The Syrian government and Russian airstrikes have systematically targeted hospitals in Idlib, and displaced people are sleeping without shelter in the streets, in olive groves, or in overcrowded camps that often lack clean water, according to Leyla Hasso, communication and advocacy supervisor for the Hurras Network, a Syrian aid group.

READ  Relief package scandal rocks IDP camps

“It will be a disaster if we have coronavirus in northwest [Syria],” Hasso told The New Humanitarian.

Refugees missing from coronavirus focus

If the coronavirus spreads to refugee populations in the Middle East, international indifference may also play a role in how severe the outbreak becomes.

“The health situation among refugees and IDPs from the Syria crisis has [gotten] worse over recent years due to declines in humanitarian funding and dwindling political attention from Europe, UK and US,” Coutts said.

But there has been little public discussion about how the coronavirus might impact refugees and migrants during the current outbreak, he said: “A cruise liner of tourists has got far more press, political, and policy attention than three million people being continuously bombed in Idlib.”

 basic advice for protecting against the coronavirus comes down to staying away from people who may be infected, vigilant personal hygiene, and seeking medical attention if symptoms occur.

This prevention advice will be difficult to follow in Idlib and other parts of the Middle East, where refugees and IDPs often live in overcrowded and unhygienic camps, informal settlements, and substandard urban housing. But, according to Jawad, there are still steps that can be taken.

Aid groups, civil society organisations, and governments can target hygiene and prevention advice to these displaced communities, he said.

“If possible, carrying small hand sanitisers around with you at all times, or just simply not touching your face if your hands are unwashed,” he said. “It’s difficult… but there are small things that can be done to help mitigate the problem.”

“A cruise liner of tourists has got far more press, political, and policy attention.”

Organisations like national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies have prioritised migrant communities as part of coronavirus preparedness programmes. This week, the UN’s migration agency, IOM, launched a response plan that has a heavy focus on migration elements, including fighting stigma and risk communication.

“Messaging must be issued in languages that are adapted to the context, and treatment must take into account specific cultures and customs,” said Jacqueline Weekers, director of migration health at the IOM.

READ  Refugees Commission begins verification of IDPs in Nigeria

It’s also crucial to ensure people can report their symptoms and get healthcare without fear of arrest or deportation, she added.

“It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do from a public health perspective,” Weekers said.

READ MORE: Politicising the coronavirus in Italy and beyond

As the coronavirus continues to spread, public health analysts say the international community must pay greater attention to how the outbreak could hit displaced populations.

Health crises have been an integral part of the Middle East’s conflicts and the displacement crises they have caused, Jawad said. He pointed to the outbreak of polio in Syria and Iraq in 2014, and the surge in cases of the so-called Aleppo Boil – a parasitic illness spread by sand flies – and its spread to neighbouring countries after the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011.

“It’s one of the things we’ve seen over and over again,” Jawad said, referring to the spread of diseases and viruses among refugees and displaced communities. “I wouldn’t be too surprised if something like coronavirus also starts spreading throughout the population because it’s part and parcel of the humanitarian disaster we have to deal with, unfortunately.”

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Nigerians in Spain say no to genocide

Nigerians resident in Spain have kicked against bad governance and brutalitalisation of innocent citizens by security operatives in Nigeria.

They are in solidarity with the #Endsars protesters.

The #Endsars protest  started by young Nigerians to say no to brutality, impunity and gruesome killings in the hands of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the government in the country saw security operatives using live bullets on the protesters last week, October 21, 2020.

In a statement signed by Afolabi Oloko, the Nigerians in Spain said: “In every part  of the world, including Nigeria, we believe protesting is a fundamental right of all citizenry that we can exercise whenever we deem it fit as long as it is civil and devoid of violence but such is not the case in Nigeria where the young future of the country are murdered by their very own government just because they made demands that there must be a reform to the notorious Police department and that the country be reformed in general. Have they asked for too much from a responsible and responsive government?

READ  Relief package scandal rocks IDP camps

“It is so disheartening that after Ten days that the youth refused to back down they resorted to killing, maiming of their own future generations just because they asked and begged for good governance and good policing. It’s a shame that young people are being killed all around the cities of Nigeria from Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Abuja, Ondo , Benin, Porthacort just to mention a few. It was horrendous seeing over seventy people being murdered at night while still protesting unarmed peacefully in Lekki area of Lagos state. They organised by switching off the street light while they carried out their evil deed against defenceless young people of the country and also took away the CCTV. The commander-in-chief of the Armed forces in person of President Muhamodu Buhari must be tried at the International court for genocide against it’s own people.

“We the compatriots far away in Spain are with our young brothers and sister on the streets saying no to bad governance as you’re in our hearts and prayers. We support you in the just cause you’re are fighting. Fighting for one’s future should not be seen as an affront to the authorities, rather they should look inward and realise that the system is rotten and should be cleansed but not killing innocent young men on the streets with Army being deployed to take lives of vibrant and resourceful, frustrated and change hungry citizens.
“Today, we came out in multitude in solidarity with our compatriots back home to say #ENDSARS! #ENDBADGOVERNANCE #ENDPOLICEBRUTALITY #ENDCORUPTION #ENDTHEGENOCIDE”

READ  Lebanon explosions: UNHCR seeks assistance for thousands of displaced families

 

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ILO, IOM sign agreement to strengthen collaboration on migration governance

The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today signed an Agreement to create a framework for cooperation and collaboration to enhance the benefits of migration for all.

The framework includes joint support for improved migration governance, capacity building and policy coherence at national, regional and global levels. Other areas of work may also be developed.

The Agreement was signed by Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, and António Vitorino, the IOM Director-General, on Friday at the ILO Headquarters in Geneva.

Speaking after the signing ceremony, Ryder said, “this Agreement seals an important alliance between our two organizations. Together, we will be stronger and more effective in both fulfilling our individual mandates and in collaborating on areas that are crucial for reshaping the world of work so that it is more inclusive, equitable and sustainable.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is having a brutal impact on economies and societies. Vulnerable groups, particularly migrant workers and their families, are being disproportionately hit. There could be no better time to reinforce our partnership and combine our strengths, so that we can help countries and our constituents build back for a better future.”

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DG Vitorino said, “the agreement that we are signing today will help us further solidify our collaboration at the time when joint solutions are so much needed, with a pandemic that is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest. As we move towards post-pandemic recovery, we fully embrace the call to build a better world together, tapping into the added value of each partner. With ILO, we have much to co-create and we look forward to future cooperation within the broader UN family, with our partner governments, private sector and civil society.”

The new ILO-IOM Agreement builds on the agencies’ comparative advantages, expertise, and respective constituencies. By encouraging joint initiatives, the Agreement aims to strengthen international migration governance and boost cooperation, capacity building and joint advocacy to promote migrants’ rights and decent work opportunities.

By encouraging social dialogue, it will allow workers` and employers` organizations – who sit equally with governments in the ILO’s tripartite membership structure – to contribute to policy discussions.

READ  Refugees to the rescue? Germany taps migrant medics to battle virus

A workplan will be developed in the next six months to push forward the collaboration at global, regional and country levels and, more importantly, facilitate the implementation of the Agreement in the field, where both agencies are working directly with affected populations.

It will seek to enhance the agencies joint contribution to their member states, UN country teams, and societies to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Agreement will also allow the ILO and IOM to strengthen support for their respective constituencies in implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), and contribute to other global and regional migration policy fora and debates.

Support Voice for African Migrants


Support VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS journalism of integrity and credibility.

Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

For continued free access to the best and latest migration, trafficking, displacement and humanitarian reports including thorough investigative reports in these areas, we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

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Stop enslavement of Africans in other continents- Experts tell African leaders

The second international migration summit by the Journalists International Forum For Migration (JIFORM) ended on Friday, October 16, 2020,  at the Pensioners FM, Ibadan, Oyo State, with a call to  African leaders to deliver good governance to halt continued enslavement of the Africans in other continents through irregular migration.

The conference themed: Migration governance and media strategy for development   with physical and virtual presentations was attended by hundreds of journalists and other participants across the world.

President of JIFORM, Ajibola Abayomi, in his remark after signing a memorandum of understanding with the Diaspora Innovation Institute (DII), US, on training and investment opportunities for journalists, said the global media body with over 200 journalists spread across the continents as parts of the fallouts of the summit would produce glossary of terminologies for over 10,000 journalists and media houses beyond Africa.

Speaking at the occasion, Governor Oluwaseyi Makinde of Oyo State hailed JIFORM’s  advocacy and identified poverty as the root cause of irregular migration pledging commitment to reverse the tide through good governance.

Represented by Barrister Olubunmi Ogunniran, Director General of Legal Administration, Oyo State Ministry of Justice, the governor said apart from rescuing trafficked indigenes of the state abroad and creating diaspora unit, he had inaugurated a task force against human trafficking, sexual offenders with prosecute department and further engagement of the youths through economic activities.

READ  Refugees to the rescue? Germany taps migrant medics to battle virus

Minister of Labour Sierra Leone, Mr Alpha Timbo; Ghana Ambassador to Egypt, Lebanon and Sudan, Nii Okai Hammond, and the United Nations Youth Ambassador (Ghana), Lilian Addo, all praised what they tagged courageous movement by JIFORM and promised to support the body in its quest to further spread its advocacies.

Chairman of the summit, Patrick Lumumba,  rued the faulty labour and trade laws in Africa limiting development and called on the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) for ntervention to remove migration barriers causing undue frictions between Ghana and Nigeria ditto for the African Union to end the xenophobic attacks in South Africa against other African nationals.

He blamed the crisis on misapplication of resources and corruption among African leaders and urged them to retrace their steps to save the youths from desperate migration to other continents through the desert and the Mediterranean Sea.

Chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Matters, Tolulope Akande-Sadipe lauded JIFORM’s efforts to eradicate irregular migration and vowed to rescue and end the suffering of stranded Nigerians lured through human trafficking to the Middle East and other Arabian nations through collaborations.

READ  Libya: New evidence shows refugees and migrants trapped in horrific cycle of abuses

Member of African Union Advisory Committee on Labour Migration, (Ghana) Dr Princess Ocansey urged the African nations to end the Kafala bilateral agreement entered into with some Middle East countres that permitted the en-slavery of mostly African women.

“African leaders must wake up to save the youths from deadly work they are being subjected and replace that with decent work. The Kafala system is a shame and very dehumanizing” she said.

Former Canada Minister of Immigration, Gerry Weiner while delivering his presentation urged the African youths to acquit themselves with the right processes to tap into numerous diaspora opportunities in Canada and elsewhere.

Weiner, who had 12 years working experience in Africa, said only safe and regular migration, would guarantee the actualization of the desire to be part of  economic activities in the world.

The summit had participation from several international speaker that Prince Akin Ojomo from DII; included Johanna Mac from Erich Brost Institute, Germany; Barrister Samuel Adeusi and Ms Omotola Fawunmi both from the US; International Organization for Migration (IOM), Nigeria and Gambia; Rescue African Mission; Synergy Rescue Mission; ThisLebanon Lebanon; Nigerians In Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM); National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP); Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS); Ghana Immigration Service; Diaspora Innovation Institute, New York, America; and Ghana Immigration Service.

READ  India leaves Nigerians , others, out of stimulus packages programme

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Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

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