country is experiencing restricted movement, supermarket shelves stripped bare, education withdrawn and limited access to essential medical supplies and services. Without exception we are all left wondering: how could this happen and when will it end?
With our democracy and humanity under threat, we must ask the question: will we embrace this period of enforced solicitude, and reflect and empathise with those whose entire lives are spent facing these challenges or uncertainties? Today there are 70.8 million displaced people around the world. About 37,000 people a day flee their homes because they have to, usually as a result of conflict and persecution. Millions of stateless people have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement, according to UNHCR.
The UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, acknowledged in a statement that “everyday life has come to a standstill, or is being transformed in ways that we had never envisaged”.
“With the world mobilising to combat the spread of Covid-19, many countries are limiting air travel and cross-border movement,” he said. “All states must manage their borders as they see fit. But these measures should not result in the closure of avenues to asylum, or of forcing people to return to situations of danger.
“Solutions exist. If health risks are identified, screening arrangements can be put in place, together with testing, quarantine and other measures. These will enable authorities to manage the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees in a safe manner, while respecting international refugee protection standards designed to save lives.”
The commissioner’s comments came ahead of the UN’s $2bn (£1.6bn) coordinated global humanitarian response plan to fight Covid-19 in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries. UN secretary general Antonio Guterres explains: “To leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries to their fate would be cruel and unwise. If we leave coronavirus to spread freely in these places, we would be placing millions at high risk, whole regions will be tipped into chaos.”
The pandemic has upended life in the world as we knew it. Everything once certain, suddenly is not. A virus does not discriminate between religion, colour or wealth. It is forcing us to think about our responsibilities to the people we know and those we will never meet. It shows that our own lives and the lives of the most marginalised on the planet are closer than we could have imagined.
Humanity is not doomed, this is not an apocalyptic scenario, but simply a chance to reset. When we finally emerge from isolation, we can embrace solidarity, and learn to care more about one another, knowing we now have the strength and resolve to survive and drive the change.
You can donate to UNHCR’s coronavirus emergency appeal here