Guadalajara, March 25, 2020 – The pandemic caused by the rapid expansion of Covid-19 is forcing international organizations, governments, companies, and society, in general, to take radical measures to avoid a catastrophe of unsuspected dimensions that affects all aspects of the life of the global community. Among the most vulnerable groups are people over 60, pregnant women, people with chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, HIV, cancer and immunosuppressed people. It is recommended to take hygiene measures, in which in some groups it is not possible to comply since people who live in spaces where they cannot be more than a meter and a half away, do not have access to drinking water, drainage, and medical service.
Little is said about homeless people and those who live in confined spaces (such as prisons, shelters, asylums, orphanages, annexes, mental health homes, etc.). One of these groups is migrants and asylum seekers, who in various parts of the world also face the risk of contagion and the economic consequences of this pandemic. Below, we mention some situations that migrants and asylum seekers are experiencing in different parts of the world.
In Europe, the migration crisis in Greece has been ignored by governments and the media, who, concerned by the expansion of Covid-19 and the economic debacle, have downplayed the presence of 42,000 asylum seekers, but 14,000 of these children and girls are stranded on the Greek border with Turkey. Many of these migrants are Syrians fleeing the civil war, there are also Afghans, Pakistanis, and West Africans. They live in very precarious conditions, in overcrowded centers, with very basic access to drinking water, electricity, and health services.
On the border of Mexico and the United States, around 60,000 people enrolled in the “Stay in Mexico Program” live in makeshift camps in different border cities of Mexico. This population is at risk of contagion, living in these makeshift camps where the most basic human rights and human dignity are violated.
In New York, bicycle food distributors, the vast majority without health insurance or “legal” resident status, are playing an extremely important role in this crisis caused by the pandemic. Riding on their bikes as if they were “horsemen of the apocalypse”, their work allows those in quarantine to survive. The same thing happens in other cities, where this work is invisible.
Although the border has been closed to “non-essential activities” as a measure to curb the expansion of COVID-19, irregular migration to the United States continues. The United States Department of Homeland Security reported that following the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of March 21, 2020, all persons who attempt to enter illegally into The United States will be immediately “returned” (without a period of detention and due process) to their country of origin because both migrants and US agents are at risk of contagion of Covid-19 in detention centers.
On the border of Mexico with Guatemala, due to the closure of the border promulgated by the President of Guatemala Alejandro Giammattei, more than 900 migrants of different nationalities (mainly Central American), were stranded in the XXI Century migration station, famous for its deplorable hygiene conditions and overpopulated. These people are afraid of not being treated in the event of an outbreak, according to what they have expressed to the media, as the National Institute of Migration has been slow to implement sanitary measures in the face of this contingency.
The closure of borders in Guatemala has left a group of 109 Haitians, including children and pregnant women, without sanitary protection and shelter. As reported on its Facebook page by the Pastoral Human Mobility of the Guatemalan Episcopal Conference, these migrants coming from Honduras entered the city of Agua Caliente (bordering Honduras) and were detained when trying to enter the “Casa del Migrante José.” They were deported without due process to Honduras, where they were also not humanely assisted. This group was left without a place to stay during the quarantine and without medical assistance.
We are not epidemiologists; however, it seems to us that border closures do not necessarily stop the spread of the coronavirus. However, it exacerbates the feelings of xenophobia, making believe that what comes in and those that come from outside bring calamities to our places that we previously thought were safe, free of dangers. However, in the face of the pandemic, there seem to be no safe places, and the only certainty is that in times of crisis, solidarity and brotherhood must prevail. Fortunately, migrant shelters and centers, in different parts of the world, continue to be places of welcome for many people who require a decent place in these times of covid-19, uncertainty, and anguish.
Jairo Meraz Flores and Fr. José Juan Cervantes, c.s.