No global disaster has been intentionally misreported and distorted like the refugee crisis. The media’s failure to report accurately on refugees extended to the definition of the word ‘refugee’ itself. The term has been used for a decade to instil fear into civilian populations about the risk of ‘foreigners’ stealing their livelihood.
Yet, this definition and perception of refugees is as far from the truth as possible. Refugees don’t have a choice. They are forced to flee their homes due to persecution and violence, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issues that refugees face in their pursuit of safety.
Refugees are incredibly vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic. Many refugees live in inadequate housing and overcrowded conditions in camps, informal settlements and densely populated areas. The highly infectious nature of COVID-19 means that one case in these settlements almost guarantees that every other person in the settlement will become infected. Without access to adequate healthcare services, refugees are forced to rely on their already depleted immune system to fight a virus that can have excruciating symptoms for many victims.
Moreover, refugees are 60% more likely than host populations to be working in sectors that are particularly impacted by the pandemic. This includes sectors such as accommodation, food services and manufacturing. They don’t have the luxury of working from home on their laptop, so when work is shut down, they must suffer the economic consequences individually. Humanitarian organisations aren’t able to support refugees in these scenarios, as they too have been forced to withdraw from numerous communities to protect themselves from the virus.
Governments have utilised any excuse to tighten restrictions on refugees. The Liberal government in Australia campaigned for years about the risk refugees posed to Australian society and created countless false correlations between terrorism and refugees. They found any event with plausible connections to refugees and utilised it to further their brutal policy of refusing entry of refugees into Australia.
COVID-19 has provided governments with further excuses to double down on border closures and reform migration policy to restrict the movement of refugees. Moreover, governments have used refugees as a scapegoat to further their political agenda and reduce refugee rights. In Hungary, refugees and migrants were blamed for the spread of the virus, which the government used as an excuse to pass emergency laws closing down the country’s already very restrictive asylum system. In Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees have been relocated to deserted islands completely cut off from the mainland, without adequate supplies and resources to maintain survival.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a short-term issue. The rollout of vaccines this year should see the world return to a significant degree of pre-COVID normality by 2022. However, the refugee crisis is a long-term issue. Over 80 million people worldwide don’t have somewhere that they can call home, and this virus is only going to increase those statistics. 80 million! That’s more people than the entire population of the United Kingdom! COVID-19 has been utilised by world leaders as a convenient cover for reducing refugee rights and introducing restrictive policies that could become permanent once the pandemic is over.
We must not forget the crisis that will define this generation. The refugee crisis extends beyond a group of people seeking safety and security. If left unresolved, it will deteriorate the economies and social frameworks of nations around the world. A collaborative approach must be endorsed, and we must speak to ensure that our local governments do not forget about the most vulnerable members of our world.
‘Refugees don’t have a choice, but you do.’