The reflection of the Scalabrinian missionary Father Alfredo Gonçalves, Vice President of the Serviço Pastoral dos Migrantes (SPM) in São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo, July 9, 2020 – The data reveals that the coronavirus pandemic does more damage among different ethnic groups living precariously in foreign countries, particularly affecting undocumented immigrants. Things get worse when these immigrants are victims of the global organized crime network. A recent United Nations report draws attention to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on human trafficking. The document warns in a textual and precise way: « In human trafficking, criminals are adapting their business models to the ‘new normal’ created by the pandemic, especially through the abuse of modern communication technologies.
At the same time, COVID-19 affects the ability of state authorities and non-governmental organizations to provide essential services to the victims of this crime. More importantly, the pandemic has exacerbated and highlighted the deep-seated economic and social inequalities, which are among the main causes of human trafficking « (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – UNODC, Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Trafficking in persons).
Again, the First to Be Hit
Ironically, this time the masks unmask the greatest economic and social inequalities. The balance sheets of companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple, to name a few examples, saw a trillion-dollar growth in the stock market during the scourge.
Meanwhile, the pandemic leaves a trail of unemployment and underemployment everywhere. And again, foreigners are the first to be hit. Due to the lack of duly regularized documentation or the lack of professional qualifications, many of them end up falling (or returning) to the conditions of disposable workers.
A « Lasting Exile »
For many, the problem is going home, as in the case of hundreds of Colombians who have had to camp at São Paulo’s Guarulhos airport for weeks. It is no different for students who are graduating in other countries. As for the plight of refugees – those who cannot turn back, due to the risk of persecution and even death – even before the pandemic, their numbers had increased in recent years.
According to the journalist Flávia Mantovani, « the number of people who have left their homes forced by wars, persecutions and humanitarian crises in the world has almost doubled in the last decade, going from 41 million in 2010 to an all-time high of 79.5 million in 2019 – equivalent to 1% of the world population. At the same time, with the persistence of old conflicts and the emergence of new ones, [only] a small fraction of them managed to return to their country – 3.9 million, compared to nearly 10 million in the previous decade. Consequently, most of them find themselves in a situation of lasting exile”.
A Series of Predictable Disasters
Year after year, the factor of climate disasters adds to the violence and humanitarian crises they suffer. As the climate pendulum swings faster and faster between the ends of the spectrum, the so-called climate refugees increase in proportion. Prolonged droughts, hurricanes, atypical and unseasonal storms, floods, and landslides – among other catastrophes – are the nefarious (and somewhat predictable and predicted) result of global warming.
In addition, experts and environmentalists have warned that predatory exploitation and the devastation of the environment, on the one hand, and the emergence of Covid-19, on the other, are not dissociable from each other. On the contrary, with the destruction of their natural habitat, wild animals begin to live closer to humans, which could explain the series of new viruses that have emerged in recent decades (avian flu, swine flu, ebola, new coronavirus, and so on).
Fr. Alfredo J. Gonçalves, cs