Covid-19 strengthens case to welcome refugees

Submitted by AWL on 18 March, 2020 - 10:17 Author: Mohan Sen

Right-wing governments and movements are using the C-19 crisis to demand refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere are kept or driven out of Europe.

In fact the crisis only strengthens to the case they must be let in, welcomed and integrated.

The Syrian government says the country has no confirmed C-19 cases, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports outbreaks in several provinces. It says the regime has issued a gag order to stop medical personnel discussing the issue.

Meanwhile Syria is one of very few countries in the region not to have stopped air travel with Iran — the regional epicentre of the outbreak, at 14,000 confirmed cases and 700 deaths. The World Health Organisation assesses Syria’s risk as “very high”.

Syria’s healthcare system has been devastated by years of civil war. But it is the refugee camps on Syria’s borders that face the gravest danger.

There are as yet no reports of cases in the camps. If – when – the virus does reach there, it will most likely spread like wildfire, in conditions that could almost have been designed for rapid spread.

If C-19 cannot be contained in rich countries with relatively solid healthcare and public services, imagine what is likely in the camps. Just since December, the Syrian-Russian war drive has displaced a million new people in north-west Syria, with about half the population now in camps. The surge of new arrivals means it is now common for multiple families to share tents.

In addition to other problems and shortages, in some camps there is literally no running water.

There are likely to be many more Syrian refugees soon. In refugee camps in Europe, for instance on the Greek island of Lesbos — “home” to 20,000 Syrians — the situation is better but still dire, and highly conducive to the mass spread of the virus.

On Lesbos, last week, far-right activists from across Europe joined their Greek comrades to carry out attacks on aid workers and burn down a migrant shelter.

The Turkish government is pushing Syrian refugees towards and into Greece in an attempt to extract financial concessions from the EU. While justly denouncing the Greek government for its treatment of migrants, it too is treating the Syrians appallingly — including, almost unbelievably, denying them access to healthcare.

Europe is the world epicentre of C-19, not the Middle East. In any case, the infection of desperate, densely-packed refugee camps will increase the chance of a more rapid spread of the disease in the surrounding countries, and further. Demonstrating again the absurdity of nationalism, the virus does not respect borders and fences.

The safest course of action for everyone is for the camps to be dispersed by the refugees being let into the country of their choice, welcomed into the networks of society, and given full, equal access to healthcare and services.

Equally importantly, this is the only course of action that can avoid or minimise incredible suffering among people who have already suffered horrendously. A Syrian life is not worth less than a British or Greek or German life.

So socialists and labour movement activists must use this crisis to argue to open Europe’s borders and welcome migrants.

We must argue for urgent, huge aid from the governments of rich countries to poorer countries to enable them to rapidly build up their healthcare capacity and public services.

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