Side effects

Publish date 20-05-2020

by Nello Scavo

All over the world, refugees and minorities are paying the Covid pandemic dearly.


The infected were not enough, we have to deal with the "desaparecidos" of Coronavirus. The pandemic is also a challenge for human rights. Some countries, starting with China, took advantage of this to settle accounts with dissidence. Elsewhere it is a race against time to ward off the worst scenario: the epidemic among the poorest and most fragile on the planet, from the gigantic refugee camp of Dadaab in Kenya to the Rohingya settlements between Myanmar and Bangladesh, from the Greek islands to the Balkan route. In Europe autocratic temptation has had once unthinkable effects. In Budapest, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has asked for and obtained full powers, which allow him to concentrate in his hands almost every cog of a democracy that has just come of age. And what does the fight against Covid have to do with the need to control cultural and even sports information, it is difficult to understand it.


However, the pandemic would be a good opportunity to understand that elsewhere they have been worse off. The NGO Oxfam in a research has denounced how in most camps for refugees scattered all over the world, living conditions are the exact opposite of what should be done to stop the infection: «On average in many camps over 250 people forced to share a single source of clean water, with less than 3 and a half square meters of living space per person ». Even worse in the prison camps in Libya or on the Greek islands, where more than 40 thousand people are crowded together in confined spaces and in appalling hygienic conditions. Even worse things are going on in the Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh, where 40 thousand Rohingya refugees live per square kilometer. Malnutrition, cholera, dysentery and typhus are already everyday life. Covid would be the coup de grace, causing outbreaks that would extend to the entire division of Chittagonga in the Gulf of Bengal, where about 30 million people live.


Closer to home, on the Greek island of Lesbos, the refugee citadel in Moria was designed for 3,000 migrants and refugees. There are 20 thousand: 1 bathroom (dirty) for every 160 people, 1 shower for every 500, 1 water source for every 325. Although it is a structure financed by the European Union, "there is practically no soap to wash even the hands and 15 or 20 people - Oxfam recalls - are forced to live piled together in individual containers or in makeshift accommodations ».

There are currently over 70 million fugitives in the world due to persecutions, conflicts, violence and human rights violations. Of these, "more than 20 million - Unhcr-Acnur recalls - are refugees", more than 80 percent welcomed by low- or middle-income countries, with "less efficient medical, water supply and sanitation systems ».


To date, over 100 countries are reporting the local broadcast of Covid-19. Of these, 34 host refugee populations that exceed 20 thousand people, and who are currently not affected by the virus. Since refugees and internally displaced persons are often found in overcrowded places or where public health and other basic services are poor and overburdened, all UN agencies have been advised "to put in place emergency plans and mechanisms in collaboration. with governments and partners ", reads an operating note.

This is not the case in China, whose successes in containing the contagion are causing one of the worst side effects to be overlooked. Sharon Hom, executive director of China Human Rights, an NGO with headquarters in New York, says that access to information, together with restrictions on the content and dissemination of information, remain the key tools of social control in the country that is first been hit by the Coronavirus.


A recent study by the Canadian computer research group Citizen Lab, cited by al Jazeera, documented how the repressive actions of the Xi Jinping government have been stepped up. The Chinese messaging application WeChat and the streaming video app YY have blocked certain combinations of keywords that include criticism of the president regarding the management of the Coronavirus emergency.


Since the beginning of the epidemic, China Human Rights has monitored a series of cases in which citizens who have published critical opinions on social networks about the "inadequate responses" from the authorities seem to have completely disappeared. The best known case is that of Chen Qiushi, a Chinese civil rights lawyer who supported the Hong Kong population's protest against Beijing. On February 7, he was taken away from his home to be quarantined. The measure had been announced for a duration of 24 days. Well over a month later, there is no news of the lawyer. Just as Fang Bin, a journalist disliked by the regime, seems to have vanished, as well as Li Zihua, a former journalist of the CCTV7 public network, disappeared on February 26 when a group of unidentified men took him away from his home.


See the focus Reflections in Time of Covid 19

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