TOXIC COVID-19 POLICY: MISERIES OF REFUGEES
Chaterine Maudy Amelia Widi, Maria Veronica Giuseppina B M, dan Priska Anggita
(firstname.lastname@example.org), (email@example.com), dan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Member of Atma Jaya International Law Society/AILS)
Coronavirus or namely COVID-19 is a deadly virus spreads around the globe, killing and infecting millions which emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019. The World Health Organization described the new Coronavirus as a pandemic for the first time on Wednesday 11 March 2020. More than 370.000 people reported dead (last updated on 31 May 2020). The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The spread of the virus is lightning, every state has to take action to minimize the spread of the increasingly widespread virus by identifying hot spots and clusters, and system capacity and respondents to find, isolate and treat cases, and quarantine contacts make people should stay at home, work from home, and do physical distancing to stopping the virus. The global pandemic has changed the way people live their life. People are urged to washing hands, wearing face mask when they leave the house even wearing gloves, and physical distancing from each other. Not to mention, offices and schools are currently doing the work from home and learn from home.
Stay at home has been campaigned to limit the infection of the virus. It is indeed a simple yet good step to protect people from the virus. People are able to stay inside their houses and work from home even learning with no fear of being infected. On the other side, it is not a very good news for those who are living in the war zone. According to the United Nations, there are 25 million refugees in camps around the world who face particularly acute obstacles in the fight against COVID-19. “The core principles of refugee protection are being put to test – but people who are forced to flee conflict and persecution should not be denied safety and protection on the pretext, or even as a side effect, of responding to the virus,” stated by Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Speaking of lockdown policy, refugees (people who have crossed an international frontier and are at risk or have been victims of persecution in their country of origin) and other displaced communities (people who have not crossed an international frontier but have for some reasons also fled their home) have difficulties to prevent the virus. For example, most of refugees inconvenience to wash their hands when access to water is limited, they are not able to keep physical distancing to stop the virus because they lived in overcrowded camps. If in normal country healthcare is available, most of the medical system in the war zone destroyed and there’s no stable healthcare system for this reason many refugee camps don’t have proper tools to detect the virus for example in Syria where the public health system is fragile after years of conflict. There is a general shortage of qualified personnel and adequate treatment facilities: if in the Damascus governorate only 18 hospital beds are available for 10,000 people, in many other governorates there are none. In rural Damascus there are 5 beds per 10,000 people, Homs and Dar’a both have 3, which is well below the normal standard indicated by the Interagency Standing Committee (IASC) which provides a minimum of 10 beds per 10,000 people.
Besides of inadequate public health, the increasing outbreak of COVID-19 affects many countries attempt to neglect refugees, migrants, or asylum seeker by using this pandemic as a pretext. Those countries attempt to avoid their responsibility to protect these communities which violates International Law. The aftermath of the lack of attention towards the refugees, displaced community, and asylum seekers lead them to desperately searching for foods, lack of public health and other facilities that often caused them to break the social distancing or the curfew. In some cases, there are quite many abusive and heavy–handed action commits by security officers towards the communities to make them abide by the restrictions. Regarding this situation, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet on her additional statement said, “Shooting, detaining, or abusing someone for breaking a curfew because they are desperately searching for food is an unacceptable and unlawful response. So is making it difficult or dangerous for a woman to get to the hospital to give birth. In some cases, people are dying because of the inappropriate application of measures that have been supposedly put in place to save them.”
In order to restrain the spread of COVID-19, there are some measures done by the countries that are inappropriate, unjustified, and discriminating towards the displaced communities. Recently, United States and some countries in the European Union allegedly refusing to provide shelter for migrants and referring their actions as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is confirmed that on 18 April 2020 about 10.000 people expelled in 2 hours after arriving on U.S soil and effectively denying the legal rights of asylum seekers according to Customs and Border Protection. United States commits the Refoulement acts towards the displacement communities as they escorted back over the border into Mexico where acts of crimes and abuse reportedly awful there. On the other side in Indonesia, more than a low number of refugees compared to other countries, refugees in Indonesia are vulnerable, with many living in crowded rooms and tents without access to electricity and running air. Accordingly to Emergency Measures and COVID-19 Guidance, “Even without formally declaring states of emergency, States can adopt exceptional measures to protect public health that may restrict certain human rights. These restrictions must meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and proportionality, and be non-discriminatory.” In this context, most states may have the tendency that their action (refuse to accommodate and provide the refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers in terms of public health) are exceptional and emergency measures and are provided by their National Law therefore it means they are complying with legality aspects. However, every state also must need to comply with the others aspect which is very important. Director of Field Operations, Georgette Gagnon, in online press conference added, “A main concern on exceptional and emergency natural measures is what’s been described as a toxic lockdown culture in some countries.”
Hereby, a toxic lockdown culture not only contained aggressive and heavy-handed action but also the state’s measures which tend to neglect some communities in order to prioritize others. The toxic lockdown policy not accordance to UDHR which guarantees the right to seek and enjoy asylum in other countries. Since what has been published by this global Coronavirus outbreak, the health of everyone is a priority with no differentiation including most marginalized and vulnerable members in a society like refugees, citizens without citizenship, and internally displaced people according to international human rights and refugee protection standards including through quarantines and health checks.
As a non-party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Indonesia has no obligation to receive refugees. However, Indonesia has Presidential Decree issued in 2016 that guarantees legal certainty and operational standards to handling refugees. Due to this pandemic, according to Article 26 of the Presidential Decree stipulates that basic necessities such as clean water, food, clothing, health care, hygiene and religious facilities should be sought from international organizations. This article shows that Indonesia still has to provide adequate facilities for the health of the refugees eventhough Indonesia is a non-party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Hereby, us as one global community, we have to work together to battle the virus, the fake news, and the panic. Furthermore, we also have to pay attention to the fear of the refugees because it will affect all aspects of us even not equally.
- Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/live-events/coronavirus-6-id2921484, accessed 23 May 2020.
- WHO, https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1, accessed 23 May 2020.
- UNHCR, https://www.unhcr.org/cy/2020/04/22/beware-long-term-damage-to-human-rights-and-refugee-rights-from-the-coronavirus-pandemic-unhcr/, accessed 1 June 2020
- Intersos, “Syria: Coronavirus And A Conflict-Ridden Health System”, https://www.intersos.org/en/syria-coronavirus-and-a-war-torn-health-system/, accessed 1 June 2020.
- United Nation, “Toxic lockdown culture of repressive coronavirus measures hits most vulnerable”, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1062632, accessed 29 May 2020.
- United Nation Human Rights Office of The High Commissioner, Bachelet, “COVID-19: Exceptional measures should not be cover for human rights abuses and violations, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25828&LangID=E, accessed 29 May 2020.
- Nina Lakhani, “US Using Coronavirus Pandemic To Unlawfully Expel Asylum Seekers, Says UN”, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/17/us-asylum-seekers-coronavirus-law-un#maincontent, accessed 29 May 2020.
- Dian Septriari, “UNHCR Works To Ensure No Refugees Left Behind In COVID-19 Crisis In Indonesia”, https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/04/05/unhcr-works-to-ensure-no-refugees-left-behind-in-covid-19-crisis-in-indonesia.html, accessed 1 June 2020
- United Nation Human Rights Office of The High Commissioner, “Emergency Measures and COVID-19 Guidance”, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Events/EmergencyMeasures_COVID19.pdf, accessed 31 May 2020.
- UN News, “Toxic lockdown culture of repressive coronavirus measures hits most vulnerable” https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1062632 accessed 2 June 2020