Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 64, 8 April 2020

A lethal impact on the Refugee/Migrant Camps 
Aparupa Bhattacherje

In the news

The growing casualties of COVID-19 around the world have led to a global lockdown. Social distancing, hygiene, and strong immunity are the key measures to fight the pandemic. These measures might sound simple; nevertheless, it is a luxury for many. More than 70 million people are displaced all over the world, as stated by the UN Refugee Agency. They could be referred to as refugees, migrants or asylum seekers and remains the most vulnerable in the present situation. On 2 April, after 20 refugees tested positive, Greece became the first country to force quarantine a refugee camp. It raises the pertinent question, how to restrict the spread of the virus in these camps, which are overcrowded, cramped, lacks basic hygiene and sanitation.

Issues at large

Large camps such as the Syrian refugee camps inside and outside Syria, the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh or the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan are the most vulnerable. These large camp areas are crowded and lack the necessary facilities. The millions residing in these camps are displaced due to conflicts in their country of origin. For example, in one of the Syrian refugee camps called 'Vial', in the Greek island of Chios, 6000 refugees reside in a space intended for about 1,000 people. Similarly, as of 2017 more than 18,200 Rohingyas are sheltered in the Kutupalong camp, one of the largest Rohingya camps, in Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh. According to the UNHCR in 2017 Pakistan had approximately 1.3 million registered Afghans living in unhealthy conditions. In India, the government's decision on sudden lockdown has affected not only the migrant population but also the Rohingya refugees living in small camps across the country. They are now left to starve as they are not recognized by the government.

The pandemic is also being used as an instrument to further restrict any entry of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers within many countries. In March-end, Bosnia detained several thousands of refugees and migrants within a newly built Lipa refugee camp as a preventive measure to contain the spread of the Coronavirus. Around 24 km from the border, these refugee camps lack water, electricity, and medical facilities hence the restriction of movement of the refugees from the camps by the Bosnian authorities have further compounded their deplorability. 

In perspective

First, with the refugees living in closed and cramped quarters, social distancing is impossible, and in case of contamination it will be an arduous undertaking to prevent the contagion. The government should thereby initiate measures for hygiene, sanitation, awareness and facilitating medical facilities in the camps. For resolving this problem, a unique initiative has been taken by Portugal. The government has granted temporary residency to immigrants and asylum seekers until July 2020. This will enable them to avail health and social benefits like any other citizen of the country.

Second, in a scenario where the government structures in the developing countries lack the capacity to provide health benefits to all its citizens, providing healthcare of the refugees will be a distant priority. For instance, Bangladesh lacks basic medical facilitates for its citizens and will always priorities them over the refugees who are unwelcomed in their country. A closed border has deteriorated the condition further as most of these camps are heavily dependent on international aids and medical practitioners' from an organization such as 'Doctors' without Borders.' 

Last, with the refugees mostly unwelcomed in the host countries, a conflict between the local residents and the refugees around the camp areas could be simmering in any instance of a positive case of Coronavirus or facilities to the refugees. In the case of the Rohingya camps, frequent skirmishes have been reported between the locals and the Rohingya refugees. Thus when there is a fear of pandemic these local conflicts will aggravate, resulting in increasing problems. 

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