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[Coronavirus pandemic and immigrants] – The COVID-19 pandemic can teach us compassion for migrants and refugees

We should keep this in mind when we commit not to leave anyone behind. Migrants – like homeless people, women and children in abusive households, people in detention, and others – face greater risks during this crisis. By showing how much our societies rely on what is considered “low skilled” work, of which a good deal is carried out by migrants, this crisis should prompt us to reassess how we want to govern mobility going forward, once restrictions are eased.

More broadly, the fact that governments only remember migrants when they need them reveals an embarrassing lack of empathy for people particularly at risk during the pandemic. If, at a minimum, temporary regularisations are needed, it is primarily to ensure people can access basic assistance without fear.

The same lack of empathy is on display at Europe’s borders, where thousands of people are trapped in unrelentingly harsh conditions, courtesy of Europe’s containment policies.

Imagine being among 34,000 asylum-seekers – including older people, pregnant women and children – confined in camps on Greek islands which have capacity for 6,000. Evidently, Greek authorities should transfer asylum-seekers to the mainland, and other EU countries should offer places for relocation. It is good that a few unaccompanied children are being transferred to other EU states, but that just scratches the surface.

Or imagine being among people returned to conflict-ridden Libya by the EU-supported Libyan Coast Guard. Even if you were lucky enough not to be taken to a detention centre – where arbitrary detention is the rule and torture a likely possibility – you would still be exposed to COVID-19 in a country where poorly-equipped hospitals are often targeted.

At this time, the EU should provide humanitarian assistance to people stranded in countries less capable to confront the crisis, not more speedboats to contain them there. It should create the conditions for refugees to be resettled to Europe, and relocated within Europe, rather than keeping them away at any cost. And it should start rebuilding systems to govern migration and asylum in ways that are effective and humane. Systems able to respond to international obligations, to labour market needs, but also to our shared responsibility to use all available tools – including mobility – to tackle poverty and inequality.

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