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The COVID-19 blame game threatens us all

zard1_Diego CupoloNurPhoto via Getty Images_greeceturkeyrefugeescoronavirusDiego Cupolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Despite the claims of nationalist politicians, refugees and forced migrants were not the source of COVID-19’s spread. Blaming these vulnerable groups damns them twice – and exposes everyone to even greater risks.

NEW YORK – As the new coronavirus, COVID-19, nears pandemic status, a second scourge has followed in its path: a virulent racism that scapegoats refugees, asylum seekers, and foreigners more generally as the cause of the outbreak. This is not only false and cruel, but also dangerous. Politicizing the crisis and stigmatizing whole populations risks turning fiction into fact by stoking fear and driving the disease underground, making it more difficult to manage. Have we forgotten the central lesson of the HIV/AIDS pandemic?

Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini was among the first to target migrants in connection with the COVID-19 outbreak – and, as usual, without any evidence. Salvini called on Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to resign after the government allowed a boat with 276 Africans rescued at sea to dock in Sicily. Arguing for “armor-plated” borders, he said that Conte had failed to “defend Italy and Italians.”

Asylum seekers had nothing to do with the spread of the virus in Italy. In fact, an Italian visiting Algiers is believed to have been responsible for one of the first two African cases of COVID-19.

Unfortunately, Salvini is not alone. Nationalist leaders across Europe are using the crisis to close borders and even to call for an end to the European Union’s Schengen Area of border-free travel. This reactionary chorus includes Marine Le Pen in France, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and leaders of far-right parties in Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and Austria. And in the United States, President Donald Trump’s administration has said that it is “very strongly considering” closing the country’s southern border in a bid to control the spread of the disease.

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Even more cynically, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently opened his country’s borders and bused over 10,000 Syrian refugees to the frontiers of Greece and Bulgaria. Erdoğan aims to use the specter of a rerun of the 2015 refugee crisis – amplified by the COVID-19 threat – to wrest concessions from the EU.

The conservative Greek government responded by closing the country’s borders, suspending asylum processing, and summarily deporting arriving asylum seekers. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis invoked an EU directive allowing member states to elevate border security if public health is at risk. “We will do whatever it takes to prevent the appearance of the virus – particularly there [the Greek islands],” Mitsotakis said. Hungary also has blocked access to asylum in recent days. Predictably, the EU – which has failed either to craft an effective asylum policy of its own or to provide adequate support to frontline countries such as Turkey – now faces another political crisis.

But the real Achilles heel in Greece, as in other countries hosting refugees, are the abysmal conditions in which asylum seekers are forced to live. More than 40,000 migrants now languish in Greek island camps that are designed to house a small fraction of that number. The camps lack the most basic health care and sanitation, with one toilet for hundreds of people in some locations.

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These conditions exist five years after the Mediterranean refugee crisis, and in an EU member state. Conditions on the other side of the Mediterranean – in Libya and Lebanon –  are even direr.

Moreover, the crisis could become much worse. COVID-19 is spreading fast in Iran, which hosts a million Afghan refugees. The country’s health system is considered to be one of the best in the Middle East, and yet it is struggling to cope.

In Lebanon, by contrast, public-health provision is weak, and refugees face rampant discrimination. Iraq, Syria, and Yemen have fragmented, underfunded health-care systems that have been crippled by war. And millions of Syrians are now on the move again as a result of the horrific Russian aerial bombing of Idlib, fueling even more pressure on Turkey’s borders. It is these populations, already weakened by the effects of conflict, and now forced to flee and endure desperate conditions in the process, that have the most to fear and lose from COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the targeting of border-crossing migrants is morphing into broader attacks on diversity. In many countries, people of Asian descent are reporting racist attacks, and feel fearful living and working in communities that they used to think of as home. “The government is helping the spread of the virus,” asserted a recent headline in the right-wing Italian daily Libero. “For Conte and his scientists, racism is the disease, not coronavirus.” And in the US, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson claimed that liberals would “let you die before they admitted that diversity is not our strength.”

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Under international law, governments addressing public-health threats can adopt only measures that are supported by science, proportionate to the risks involved, and anchored in human rights, including the right to seek asylum and the prohibition of discrimination. Responses that stigmatize whole populations and disproportionately affect the most vulnerable are not only wrong, but also will fail to control the spread of disease.

Faced with the growing COVID-19 crisis, the international community should ensure that cities and states with large refugee and migrant populations have the necessary resources to serve all their residents. All health-care facilities should be free of immigration enforcement, and COVID-19 responses should not trigger any immigration enforcement.

Refugees and forced migrants were not the source of COVID-19’s spread. Blaming these vulnerable groups damns them twice – and exposes everyone to even greater risks. The history of epidemics shows that how we treat our most vulnerable populations determines the fate of us all.

Source: project-syndicate.org

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Dominican Republic, IOM clear hurdles for 100,000 Venezuelan migrants

The Migration Normalization Plan will allow Venezuelans living irregularly in the Dominican Republic to work, move without risk of deportation, open bank accounts and join the country’s social security system.  Photo: IOM / Francesco Spotorno

 

 

Santo Domingo – The first group of almost 100,000 Venezuelan migrants without legal status in the Dominican Republic have received visas allowing them to work, open bank accounts and join the social security system under the country’s Migration Normalization Plan.

Created by the Dominican government and launched with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the plan aims to regularize the Venezuelan population in three stages: application for extension of stay, visa, and residency. Since April, when the first phase began, 43,000  Venezuelans have registered to extend their stay and, on 1 July, the first group of 21 Venezuelans received their work visa.

“Now that I have my visa, I feel that for others like me a lot of opportunities are opening. We will be able to establish more safely and formally to offer a better future to our children,” says Gabriela Rivero, who arrived in the country with her husband and daughter in 2018.  “Once we settled, we did not imagine how difficult it would be to get a job because the lack of documentation closed all doors.”

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Since 2019 Gabriela has led a support organization for Venezuelan migrants in Santiago de los Caballeros called FEV (Fundación Emigrantes de Venezuela), which offers free orientation and helps hundreds of migrants daily to complete their normalization plan applications.

With IOM support, eight Venezuelan migrant organizations have created orientation hubs to assist the Venezuelan population who are applying to the plan. Of the 43,000  registered through the General Directorate of Migration (DGM) web page, around 9,000 have visited the hubs for help on the procedure. The promoters and coordinators of each hub – mostly Venezuelan migrants – have learned the process with the support and guidance of the DGM team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MIREX). Besides being trained for orientation, they became the pilot group of the plan to receive their extensions and visas.

“The idea of this process is that we are the ones at the front of the hubs, a migrant helping a migrant, a Venezuelan helping a Venezuelan,” says Iván Carrera, a lawyer from Caracas and legal adviser of FUNCOVERD (Fundación Colonia de Venezolanos en RD). Carrera works as a promoter at the orientation hub in El Sambil Santo Domingo, one of the locations with the most people requesting support for their application.

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IOM launches open South America portal

International Organisation of Migration (

Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open South America, available in SpanishEnglish and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.

The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.

The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.

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Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.

“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.

“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.

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29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.

About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.

Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.

He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.

Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.

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“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”

International Organisation of Migration (

Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.

“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.

Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.

The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.

READ  Nigerian Mission in Ghana suffers twin attacks

 

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