The Coronavirus Epidemic and the Refugee Crisis Have More In Common Than You Think

To those who have 40 packets of pasta in their cupboards, to those who are stockpiling toilet roll, to those who are stealing hand sanitizer from hospitals, to those who are brawling in supermarkets over food and to those who are planning to flee from their homes to get to a safe, Covid-19-free zone: never look down upon those who are fleeing from conflict or persecution.

According to Pharmaceutical Technology, the total number of Covid-19 cases has increased to more than 110,000 in 108 countries worldwide, while recoveries currently stand at a 61,000. This invisible and serious threat has caused a climbing death toll of 3,800. As is the nature of an epidemic, these figures will likely increase until vaccinations are developed. It has been an untameable challenge for many who are trying to find their bearings amidst the chaos effectuated by national lock-downs, scare-mongering and widespread panic. Because the virus isn’t discriminatory, globalized terror is rife and tensions are rising as our collective freedom has been falsified by an epidemic that shows no signs of slowing down.

As cordons sanitaires are tightening in affected countries, those stuck in quarantine are being confronted with hard decisions about jobs, schooling and travelling. Several Hong Kong residents have chosen to flee their homes to safer areas, leaving family displaced. This exodus is what those fleeing from Syria, Libya, Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Afghanistan have to face every day.

Help Refugees reported that a staggering 70.8 million individuals have been forcibly displaced by persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. This record is on parity to the entire population of the UK being forced to flee their homes.

It is difficult to fathom what it must be like to be a displaced individual in a foreign country, separated from friends and family, sailing across oceans in cramped coffins, unprotected from injury and death. Battling every day to stay alive, these poor people have limited to no access to clean water, health facilities, sanitation and protection. Merely existing in uncharted and overcrowded spaces, it is a materialization of an ongoing state of emergency.

In Greece, camps are bursting at the seams. “Hunting parties” are being set up on Facebook by Greek locals, using deplorable acts of violence to wipe out those trying to seek respite on the shores of Evros. Journalists, doctors and NGO workers are among those being attacked by civilians, who are opposing aid given to the refugees. Thankfully for some of the victims of this dystopian horror, pictures shared through social media has put public and political pressure on EU governments to show their humanitarian sides. Germany, alongside Portugal, France, Luxembourg and Finland have pledged to help the Greek government mediate the distribution of refugees and migrant children with a coalition of volunteers.

Unlike immigration laws, attitudes towards refugees are not bound by any parameters. It is a tangible possibility that any one of us could be forced into a similar situation – to flee our homes and to seek safety somewhere else. When we discuss “refugees” or “asylum seakers” we speak as though they are entirely foreign concepts. There is an intercultural failure when understanding that these “refugees” are just people desperately escaping life-threatening circumstances in the hope for a safer life.

When you look at the Covid-19 crisis and the on-going refugee crisis, there are indisputable similarities between them. The most important is the need for protection. The only difference is the type of threat that they are fleeing from. If we wade through the noise, there is a transformative chance for us to empathize through this shared human experience and connect with those in need.

With this in mind, can we learn from the horrors of the Covid-19 outbreak, in order to commit to global acts of sympathy towards other displaced people, instead of evading this responsibility?

An Asian women holding up a rainbow coloured flag saying, “Refugees Welcome”. Photo Credit: Ra Dragon

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