Whether it is Europe or Asia or the countries in the Gulf, almost every part of the world is filled with underpaid daily waged migrant workers that have been stranded with low means of survival, away from their homes due to the lockdown amidst Corona outbreak. If by any chance they are able to cross the borders to come back home, then the screening is not done properly (due to huge numbers and unpreparedness from governments) leading to a huge risk of coronavirus traveling to different villages. Access to hospitals and other medical facilities are very low in rural spaces. With this, they have a bigger problem of no livelihood; when the earning member of the family comes back, how will the family survive?
Last week, the entire country witnessed a mass exodus of daily waged migrants from spaces they held in the cities towards their villages “that too on the foot”! With jobs on halt due to the lockdown, the dearth of money and food has initiated this process of homecoming. This was inundated by estimations that the lockdown may last for months, which has pushed them to the greater vulnerabilities.
Now, the reports of migrants being crushed down on road by vehicles, inhuman treatment by police officials and migrants dying post dehydration and lack of food intake on road have emerged. Responding to the problems, in many districts of the country, the administration, civil society organizations and community members have also gone ahead to support migrants in giving food and spaces to accommodate.
A migrant worker rides a cart with his family on a highway as they return to their villages, during a 21-day nationwide lockdown. Source: Reuters
Indians and other South Asian workers in Gulf Countries, especially Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar, are also struggling in day to day life due to cramped accommodation and questionable hygiene. “The basic issue we are facing now is groceries. The government is providing us with food but only after some days and little things only.” said a 27-year-old Pakistani engineer. Despite receiving compensation by the kingdom, many Saudi Citizens in power have given unpaid leaves to people working in the lower rungs of their companies- while keeping the money for themselves to cover losses. Even in Qatar, where police deployment and extension of medical resources and sanitation drive have taken place, workers complain that they live in community sanitized homes but do not have food to eat.
The number of migrant laborers stuck in Qatar is very high as the nation is preparing for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The #coronavirus pandemic is dictating Greece’s asylum policy.#Covid19 has forced Turkish President Erdogan to cease blackmail attempts at the border with Greece — but it has also afforded Athens the opportunity to push through policy changes.https://t.co/OOMS2yOXOg
— InfoMigrants (@InfoMigrants) April 2, 2020
The situation of daily waged migrant laborers is similar to this in different parts of the world; workplaces which include factories, workshops and lower-paying rungs of the service sector are closed down, implying that their means of survival are a question mark with low income in hand and no food security. Incase, contracted with COVID 19, the houses and rooms are crammed together with multiple people living together and no space for social distancing.
#Bangladesh has restored internet in the Rohingya camps. Many said the blackout was contributing to rumors & panic about Covid-19.
— Poppy McPherson (@poppymcp) April 1, 2020
Their access to medical facilities is also very low with major denial to access the testing. If by chance they cross borders to come back home, screening is not done properly (due to huge numbers and unpreparedness from governments) leading to a huge risk of coronavirus traveling to different villages. And for those, who have been on a run from their devastated cities and destroyed homes, CoVid 19 has increased discrimination and unwarranted violence.
In Europe, the crisis is coupled with the already existing refugee crisis – with migrants living in a pathetic state. There have been 3 cases reported of Coronavirus in the asylum-seeking camps of more than 39,000 crammed refugees (originally having the capacity of 6000 people), in Lesbos island, Greece. This situation has been termed as a “health bomb” by a government spokesperson.
Thousands of asylum seekers are kept in overcrowded camps across Greece. Source: REUTERS
There is no proper law and order: with 80% of people roaming around freely, with a deep shortage of water, soap, and food. “There is no chance of isolation or social distancing, nor is it possible to ensure appropriate hygienic conditions”. said Juar Fernando Lopez Aguliar, Member of the European Parliament from Spain. The migration ministry is trying to control the situation with rules such as restriction into small groups between 7 am to 7 pm and increasing control of the police. Separate regulations for “stopping” mingling of the local population and asylum seekers are also created.
Brutalities on migrants are also increasing in Serbia and Bosnia. Since the outbreak, their armies have locked down migrant camps for the safety of the people. In France, areas of Calais and Dunkirk are filled with migrant refugees who live in squalid tents, often with five or four other people. They access common resources- such as water points, showers and phone charging facilities.
Afghan migrants cook inside an abandoned industrial plant in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Source: Getty
The provision of showers and phone charging facilities has also decreased causing resentment in the community. Due to lockdown refugees are provided with bottled water and food in accommodation camps set up by the French Government. NGOs are also aiding the government in the provision of food. But the population of people going to these camps has decreased, mainly because of unwarranted police brutality and bad conditions of the camp, so much that people prefer to illegally go to Britain than those camps.
Massive movements of thousands of homecomings are appearing in different countries due to Coronavirus scare. They neither have ways of sustenance available in their host country, neither have faith that they will be provided medical care, being migrants.
Myanmar workers wait at the Mae Sot Immigration office in Thailand along the border with Myanmar. Source: AP
In Thailand, workers from Myanmar are also in severe tension regarding their survival since production has severely gone down after lockdown and stoppage of raw material from China. “When Thai authorities invoked a “lock-down” of businesses and factories under the Communicable Disease Act last week, most of these migrant workers faced the very real danger of running out of money amid the tight quarantine procedures.” Running out of money due to tight procedures has led to over 200,0000 Myanmar workers fleeing towards their home.
Afghanistan is facing similar problems. It has an open border with Iran and heavy migration due to a great number of blue-collared job opportunities in Iran. Huge backward movements have erupted post-Coronavirus lockdown. More than 130,000 Afghans have returned to their homes from Iran, citing lack of money as well as fear of contracting coronavirus from Iran. Gul Ahmad (43), an Afghan migrant stuck in Iran said,
“We could not go to doctors for a very simple reason. Iranians were busy with treating their own people, they won’t give a damn for a sick Afghan.”
With the Afghan ministry of health warning that some 16 million people could become infected and tens of thousands could die, experts say the wave of returning laborers and refugees, who are then dispersing throughout the country, is threatening an already complex health and security situation.
This has increased a new set of administrative complexities in the world, which are very difficult to be under the control of the states. The basic problem is the screening of so many people, mainly the temperature of people is getting checked. The screening is full of human errors and unfeasible with people entering through all legal and illegal means. Further, when the people are going back to their homes through public places, their chances of becoming potential transmitters of CoVid increases. Their villages or settlements have lesser medical access available.
In Venezuela, people are illegally migrating to Columbia due to the failing economy and crumbling health care system- for their treatments/appointment of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and HIV. On 14th March, Columbian President Ivan Duque’s government stopped the functioning of 1379 mile long border with Venezuela.
Migrants from Venezuela getting into Columbia. Source: Getty
In two weeks’ time, thousands of Venezuela migrants every day started paying illegal armed groups called ‘Trochas’ to go to Columbia. This has opened up new forms of risks. “Women are at high risk of rape,” Marianne Menjivar, Colombia, and Venezuela country director for the International Rescue Committee said. “Some cross wading through rivers, holding onto ropes. If it rains, the rivers grow, making these crossings even more dangerous.” So far, 135 cases have been reported in Venezuela, but if this increase, this migration will also rapidly increase.
On 31 March, the Human Rights office, the International Organization for Migration, the UN Refugee Agency, and the World Health Organization gave a joint statement on this impending crisis. Three-quarters of the world’s refugees and migrants live in developing countries where medical facilities are “overwhelmed and under-capacitated”. “It is vital that everyone, including all migrants and refugees, is ensured equal access to health services and are effectively included in national responses to COVID-19, including prevention, testing, and treatment,” said the agencies. However with no grants facilitated, and the possibility of great economic devastation, governments are not willing enough to spend money on immediate issues of health, and social nets.