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Migration X COVID-19: The refugee crisis

Having fundamental human rights taken away at the blink of an eye is not acceptable. The world crisis involving refugees did not begin during the pandemic, but the situation unfortunately worsened. Refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. They are defined and protected in international law, and must not be expelled or returned to circumstances where their life and freedom are at risk.

In September 2015 a deeply moving and horrifying image of a young boy, Alan Kurdi, washed ashore and lying on the beach, went viral. The outrage of the photograph moved thousands of people and even influenced politicians, including the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time David Cameron, to give shelter to more refugees. In 2015, around 3,600 refugees died in the eastern region of the Mediterranean. More than 6.6 million Syrians have been forced to flee their country since 2011 and another 6.7 million have been driven from their homes but remain trapped inside the country due to the ongoing civil war. The vast majority of Syrian refugees have found safety in neighbouring countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – Turkey alone hosts more than 3.5 million Syrians.

India as a country has seemed to have failed it's poor. The Rohingya refugees have nowhere to go. For Rohingya refugees currently residing in India, who the authorities claims are as many as 40,000, a second deportation will harbinger a frightful pattern, especially as India’s far-right government had previously pledged to deport all Rohingya. Ruling party officials have made such threats despite international law prohibiting states from refoulement, sending persons to nations where they risk persecution. In Myanmar, such persecution is a near-certainty. 

Tens and thousands of daily-wage migrant workers found themselves without jobs when the lockdown was suddenly announced on March 24th. Many began walking thousands of kilometres to their home villages. Many died on the way, some dying of sheer exhaustion after reaching home.

The pandemic has pushed the global economy into a recession, which means the economy starts shrinking and growth stops. In India, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced some details of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan package, to provide relief to Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs) in the form of an increase in credit guarantees. 

The Indian government in Parliament had stated that the nationwide migrant crisis was triggered by "fake news". Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai stated that the lockdown was imposed to “stop the untraceable movement of people from one place to another within the country”. He also added that the government ensured all basic amenities like food, water, medical were provided. These open-ended replies either misrepresent the realities of the lockdown or leave vital gaps in information. According to records, there were around 10 million migrants who went home during the lockdown, involuntarily spreading the virus.

In 2016, a deal was reached whereby Turkey would stop allowing migrants to reach the EU in return for funds from the bloc to help it manage the huge numbers of refugees it hosts.

Since then, tensions between the EU and Turkey have flared on various issues. Recently, a fierce onslaught by Syrian forces and their Russian backers on Idlib, the last province held by Syrian rebels, has led to clashes with Turkey, which supports some rebel groups. Greece has taken an increasingly hard line against new arrivals to the island in recent months — sometimes sailing refugees to the edge of Greek territorial waters then abandoning them in inflatable life rafts, according to the New York Times. Moria, a refugee camp, was destroyed in fires recently.


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon difficult life-changing circumstances on everyone, particularly refugees. 

Written by Shreya Datta

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