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New Social Compact

The virus that shut down the world: The plight of refugees and migrants

All UN entities engaged in counter-terrorism must ensure the full application of international law, including international humanitarian law and refugee law. IOM/Amanda Nero

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In part four of our review of the global impact of COVID-19, UN News considers the new challenges faced by refugees and migrants during 2020; from a heightened risk of catching the COVID-19 virus in crowded camps, to being stranded due to travel restrictions, and becoming the targets of criminal gangs.

 “We fled from home to save our lives, to escape war, and now we are faced with this new coronavirus”, said Rozhan, an Iraqi refugee who made a long and arduous journey to the European country of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with her husband, Ibrahim, and their three children. En route, the family dealt with being stopped, searched and detained, as well as cold and hazardous winter weather.

By April they were sheltering in a camp run by the UN migration agency (IOM), where they became aware of coronavirus. “Everyone was talking about it, and there were posters explaining how we should protect ourselves.”

IOM worked hard to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among people in its centres, installing sanitizer stations, educating staff and residents about safety, and closing community kitchens, to avoid large gatherings. Despite the fresh disruption to their lives, Rozhan and her family said that they understood why the new measures are necessary. “We are safe here”, she said.

Sounding the alarm

 However, safety and hygiene have been harder to maintain in other camps, particularly in developing countries. In April, the UN sounded the alarm over the fate of refugees, migrants and other displaced people during the pandemic, warning that high-density camps could be the cause of mass COVID infections.

A statement released jointly by prominent UN agencies, including IOM and the UN refugee agency UNHCR, noted that many migrants live in overcrowded facilities, settlements, makeshift shelters or reception centres, where they lack adequate access to health services, clean water and sanitation.

Particular concern was expressed for refugees and migrants held in detention centres, including migrant children and their families, as well as those detained without a sufficient legal basis. “Considering the lethal consequences, a COVID-19 outbreak would have, they should be released without delay”, the statement reads. “This disease can be controlled only if there is an inclusive approach which protects every individual’s rights to life and health”.

Stranded

In May, IOM announced that teams from the agency were providing support to migrants in the desert regions of west, central, and eastern Africa, after they had either been deported without due process, or abandoned by smugglers – just one example of groups of migrants who found themselves stranded, as restrictions on movement began to bite. Many thousands were affected, all over the world, often blocked in border areas, without access to healthcare. 

In India, huge numbers of migrant workers had their lives upended in April, when they were forced to leave the cities where they worked at just a few hours’ notice. Reports and images also emerged of police officers apparently beating people, including migrants, with batons, for breaking quarantine rules and allegedly spraying some on the road, with disinfectant.

Lacking jobs and money, and with public transportation shut down, hundreds of thousands were forced to trek hundreds of miles back to their home villages, some dying on the journey. Their desperate situation prompted UN human rights chief, Ms. Bachelet to call for authorities to respect the safety and rights of migrants when applying lockdown measures.

Targeted by organized crime

Following the imposition of COVID-related restrictions in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, a rise in extortion, drug trafficking and sexual and gender-based violence was recorded by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in May.

In 2019, violence in the region had forced some 720,000 people to flee their homes, although almost half of them remain displaced within their own country. As the pandemic took hold in Central America, organized criminal groups began exploiting lockdown measures to strengthen their grip, using forced disappearances, murders, and death threats, to force the local population to submit.

A UNHCR spokesperson said that movement restrictions were making it harder for those that need help and protection to obtain it, while those that needed to flee for their lives, faced increased hurdles in seeking safety.

‘An outsized role on the frontlines’

 At the end of what has been a particularly grim year for those forced to leave their homes, countries and families, International Migrants Day, celebrated on 18 December, was an opportunity to highlight the positive contribution that migrants and refugees make to societies, everywhere.

Hassan Akkad, an award-winning Syrian film-maker and refugee, has been hailed for the contribution he has made to his host country, the United Kingdom. Living in East London during the pandemic, he decided to help out by becoming a cleaner at his local hospital.

“It felt like a direct way that I could contribute to the wellbeing of my fellow Londoners”, he said. “It’s where I would go myself if I, or my partner, or the families on my road, got ill. It was my honour to contribute in some small way. The people I met there are, without a doubt, some of the most humble, hard-working, dedicated human beings I’ve ever met in my life. They come from all corners of the world – Ghana, Italy, Poland, the Caribbean, Spain, Iran”.

“Migrants have played an outsized role on the frontlines of responding to the crisis, from caring for the sick and elderly to ensuring food supplies during lockdowns”, said UN chief António Guterres on International Migrants Day. “Just as migrants are integral to our societies, they should remain central to our recovery”.

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New Social Compact

Gender Pay Gaps during Pandemic: A Reflection on International Workers’ Day 2021

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Men, rather than women, have been disproportionately affected by job losses over time. Nonetheless, the harsh reality of this pandemic recession has shown that women are more likely to be unemployed. As a matter of fact, women have lost substantial jobs as a result of increased childcare needs caused by school and daycare closures, which prohibit many women from working, and as a result of their employment being concentrated in heavily affected sectors such as the services sector (hospitality business, restaurant, retail outlets and so on). According to a study by Alon et al, women’s unemployment increased by 12.8 percent during the first period of Covid-19 (from March 2020), while men’s unemployment increased by just 9.9 percent. Changes in job rates (which include transfers into and out of the labor force) follow the same trend, with women experiencing a much greater drop in employment than men during the recession. Similar trends have been seen in other pandemic-affected countries.

In Southeast Asia, where informal workers account for 78 percent of the workforce, women make up the majority of blue-collar employees. In Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, women make up a substantial portion of the domestic workers, despite having a low contractual working status in informal settings. They are underpaid as a result of the pandemic, and the Covid-19 recession has reduced their importance in the workplace. Indonesia as one of the countries which affected by pandemic also experienced similar thing, with two-thirds of the female population in the active age group (between 15 and 64 years old), Indonesia is supposed to have tremendous potential for accelerating its economic development, but the truth is the opposite due to the never-ending pandemic. Since the pandemic began, many employees, mostly women, have lost their jobs or had their working hours shortened. Of course, their daily wages are affected by this situation. Besides, the wage gap between men and women also widens from March 2020 to March 2021, with women in the informal sector receiving up to 50% less than men, clearly resulting in discriminatory practices.Despite the fact that Indonesia ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention No. 100 on Equal Remuneration in 1958, fair and equal salaries have remained unchanged until now, and the legislation seems to have been overlooked and inapplicable in a pandemic situation.

Furthermore, the issue is not resolved at that stage. Apart from the pandemic, both formal and informal workers are exposed to various work systems and regulations. Women may have similar experiences with low wages and unequal payment positions in both environments, but women who work in the formal sector have the capacity, experience, and communication skills to negotiate their salaries with their employers, while women who work in the informal sector do not. Women in informal work face a number of challenges, including a lack of negotiation skills and a voice in fighting for their rights, particularly if they lack support structures (labor unions). Furthermore, when it comes to employees’ salaries, the corporate system is notoriously secretive. Another issue that continues to upset women is the lack of transparency in employee wages. Despite the fact that the national minimum wage policy is regulated by the government, only a small number of female workers are aware of it.

Overcoming Gender Pay Gaps within Pandemic Condition

In the spirit of International Workers’ Day 2021, there should be an organized and systematic solution to (at the very least) close the wage gap between men and women in this pandemic situation. International organizations and agencies also attempted to convince national governments to abolish gender roles and prejudices, however this is insufficient. As a decision-maker, the government must ‘knock on the door’ of companies and businesses to support and appreciate work done disproportionately by women. Furthermore, implementing transparent and equitable wage schemes is an important aspect of significantly changing this phenomenon. Real action must come not only from the structural level (government and corporations), but also from society, which must acknowledge the existence of women’s workers and not undervalue what they have accomplished, because in this Covid-19 condition, women must bear the “triple burden” of action, whether in productive work (as a worker or labor), reproductive work (as a wife and mother), and also as a member of society. Last but not least, women must actively engage in labor unions in order to persuade gender equality in the workplace and have the courage to speak out for their rights, as this is the key to securing fair wages. And when women are paid equally, their family’s income rises, and they contribute more to the family’s well-being.

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Latvian human rights activists condemn homophobia in China, Latvia and the world

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The issue of human rights of LGBT persons is like a hot potato – hard to spit it out, but also hard to swallow. Despite majority of the public having nothing against the LGBT community, people are afraid to allow them to have the same human rights everyone else has.

Governments and politicians also clash when it comes to fully recognizing the human rights of LGBT persons – and communist China is no exception. Interestingly, the Chinese Communist Party maintains a stance of double morals on this issue. On the one hand, during UN meetings China always reproaches other nations about homophobia and violations of LGBT rights. On the other hand, China has never been able to eradicate homophobia in the Chinese community, but instead has furthered it, for instance, by banning Eurovision broadcasts in China and by trying to ignore the existence of an LGBT community in China.

The Chinese Communist Party has become seriously entangled in its own ideology – as I already wrote, Chinese representatives have no shame in criticizing other countries’ discrimination of people with a non-traditional sexual orientation, stressing that China doesn’t consider homosexuality to be a mental illness. Moreover, the Chinese government has publicly stated that China supports the activities of LGBT organization. But this is simply not true! Although on the international stage Beijing acts as a protector of the human rights of LGBT communities and agitates for the equality of gays and lesbians, in China itself LGBT and women’s rights activists are being repressed, detained and held in labor camps. Thus, Beijing is doing everything in its power to suppress women’s rights and human rights in general.

The most pathetic thing in all this is that Beijing has always voted against all UN initiatives and resolutions that concern the recognition and establishment of human rights for LGBT persons, as this would draw even more attention to the violations of human rights in China itself.

In this regard, in solidarity with Chinese LGBT representatives the leading protector of LGBT human rights from the party Latvian Russian Union (LKS) Aleksandrs Kuzmins and one of the LKS’s leaders and MEP Tatjana Ždanoka have expressed concerns over the recent homophobic attacks in Latvia and are urging citizens from Latvia and around the world to attach a rainbow flag next to the ribbon of St. George during the upcoming 9 May Victory Day celebrations, thus commemorating members of the LGBT community that died during World War II.

Kuzmins stressed that during WWII members of the LGBT community also fought against Nazi Germany, adding that it’s no secret that in the Soviet army there were hundreds and thousands of gays and lesbians who fought shoulder to shoulder for the freedom of their motherland. These people were, however, repressed and exiled to Siberia after the war by the Stalin regime. Most of them were tortured to death in gulags, which is confirmed by information recently acquired from Moscow’s archives.

Human rights activists from the LKS believe that it’s time for people to change and openly talk about the mistakes that were made in the past – we don’t live in the Middle Ages anymore and we should get rid of ancient dogmas and stereotypes about the LGBT community, lest more people fall victim to the intolerance and hate.

On the eve of the Victory Day, the LKS urges global leaders to admit the severe mistakes that have been made and to end the repressions against their own LGBT communities.

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Farveez Maharoof explains the importance of spreading social awareness via cricket

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Image source: skysports.com

Cricket legend Farveez Maharoof recently played in the Road Safety World Series to spread awareness about road safety. The Road Safety World Series was being played in Raipur to spread awareness about road safety in India. Modern Diplomacy talks to Farveez Maharoof about why cricket is a good platform to spread awareness about social causes.

Why is cricket a good platform to spread awareness about social causes?

Cricketers have a huge following specially in Asia. Both India and Sri Lanka have a very high number of cricket fans. When cricketers speak about an issue, their fans and viewers listen to them. Moreover, it is the social responsibility of people with a platform to spread awareness for causes. Personally, I have been a part of many social campaigns in Sri Lanka. I think it is my duty to raise awareness about social issues. The Road Safety World Series spread awareness at a more global scale.

What was your most inspiring moment during the Road Safety World Series?

 Personally, I was inspired to play in the Road Safety World Series even after retirement because the series is being played for a cause. Road Safety impacts people across the world and I think it is important for people to take it seriously. I feel strongly about the issue of road safety because I lost my uncle in an accident. It affected my family deeply. I want to spread awareness about it so that others are more careful when on the roads.

Did you campaign for road safety via your personal Instagram too? How did your audience respond?

 I was not required to campaign on my social media. I did because I felt strongly about the issue. Moreover, because I have a decent number of followers on Instagram, I thought it was a good platform to spread awareness about the cause. When many cricketers post about the same issue together, it gets more highlighted in the audience’s mind. I personally use my social media for raising awareness about issues in Sri Lanka as well.

Why is road safety important to you at a personal level?

My family lost my uncle in a road accident in Canada. My mother was affected very deeply by the incident. The effects of the accident were long lasting on my family emotionally. I have always been very serious about road safety after that. The reason I played for the Road Safety World Series is because I felt strongly about the issue and wanted to play for the cause of road safety.

How is playing a series during the pandemic different from pre pandemic times?

 Playing cricket during the pandemic is very different. We are not used to being in bio bubbles and staying quarantined at the hotel. There has been a shift in the way we have to live during the tournaments. Moreover, there are many COVID safety protocols to be ensured while we are travelling. These protocols are essential and should be followed.

The Road Safety World Series was actually being played in Mumbai last year. However, when COVID hit, the series had to be paused and postponed in between. After almost one year, the series resumed in Raipur. Hence, COVID has affected sports deeply.

What are other social causes that you are passionate about?

I am passionate about social causes which affect Sri Lanka. In the past, I have campaigned for many causes in Sri Lanka including breast cancer. I am someone who likes to stay connected to my roots. I want to give back to the community in every way I can because I have been blessed with their support. I will continue with social work and I will continue spreading awareness about causes.

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