Speaking for Ourselves

Editorial: A time to be bold

Editorial: A time to be bold


 Migrant Voice - Editorial: A time to be bold

With Covid-19, the threat to the rights of migrants and refugees around the world is growing.

Conflict and persecution do not stop during a pandemic and people still need to flee their homes to find safety. But travelling is even more difficult and dangerous than usual, and the path to refuge criss-crossed with shuttered borders. We’ve also seen some countries such as Lebanon use the pandemic as an excuse to crack down on refugees in their countries.  Meanwhile, migrants around the world are finding themselves trapped in their new home with visas expiring, families far away and little or no access to state support. 

We urgently need a new approach – one that embraces those migrants living among us as full and equal members of our society with equal rights to access healthcare, housing and basic financial support, and one that ensures that those who need to flee to safety can do so. This can be an opportunity – a chance for those who govern to make bold and brave decisions that can lead to a better world for us all.

Unfortunately, our modern obsession with borders and the nation state means that, even in more normal times, we demonise and scapegoat people who cross those borders. The recent ruling by the EU’s highest court that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic broke the law when they failed to give refuge to asylum seekers in 2015 is a stark reminder of this. And in this pandemic, as states close their borders to protect their citizens, the demonisation of people seeking to cross them is getting worse. 

We’ve seen it off the coast of Cyprus, where 200 refugees were despicably turned away by patrol vessels last week; in Italy, where Matteo Salvini urged the government to close the borders to Africans (at a time when the entire continent had only one confirmed case); in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban explicitly blamed coronavirus on migrants; and even in the UK, where officials have stoked fear by claiming that migrants arriving in boats or lorries were likely bringing the virus to the country (happily ignoring the fact that people arriving on flights are just as likely to have the virus and aren’t being tested). 

But if we are to fight this virus effectively – a virus that does not wait politely at a border for admission – we must urgently change our approach. Instead of each nation formulating its own response, hunkering down behind newly erected border regulations and demonising the foreigners abroad and in its midst, we need an international approach that recognises the fundamental shared humanness of every person on this planet – and our shared susceptibility to Covid-19.

Those seeking safety must be allowed in – with testing and quarantining in place where necessary – and migrants in our communities given the means to protect themselves and those around them from this virus. 

Now is the time for states and individuals to build relationships across borders and strengthen the bonds with our friends and neighbours, wherever they may come from. Xenophobia and nationalism will only hinder us in this global fight – and if we can find ways to weaken their stranglehold on our societies now, we can look forward to a better world when this threat has passed.


TOP IMAGE: Aleppo, Joshua Tabti, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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