In the current context of the new coronavirus pandemic, issues related to migrants and refugees and their interface with health are highlighted. However, policies to combat the health crisis have directly affected international migration, restricting flows of human mobility, and promoting violations of the rights of these populations.
The obstacles to regular and secure migration imposed by the closing of borders are undoubtedly critical points with regard to the precarious situation of these groups. However, they are not the only ones. The pandemic has, for example, aggravated expressions of xenophobia motivated by the association between the “foreigner” and the disease, a trait that accompanies the history of epidemics and reinforces the discrimination to which these people are normally already subjected.
Recent data on the advancement of coronavirus in the world also shows that the global health crisis exacerbates social inequalities in income, race and gender, impacting people differently. The conditions of work and housing, access to information and medical care, the existence of public policies and safety nets, all determine the experience that each person has during the current moment.
In this sense, the vulnerability that marks the social condition of migrants, refugees and displaced persons also causes them to be affected disproportionately. Imagine the tragedy to which those in reception centers and refugee camps are subjected, in case there is an outbreak of Covid-19 among the sheltered. There are people in closed detention camps unable to comply with the recommended social distance measures and without access to basic hygiene items, such as soap and drinking water.
The concern related to how this population is being affected does not refer only to these situations, unfortunately. To a large extent, migrants enter the labor market in the countries of residence informally. And, when formalized, most of the time they perform work considered essential (in the areas of cleaning, agricultural and food production, civil construction, etc.) in a precarious way. In other words, they are supposedly less qualified functions that do not necessarily guarantee dignified conditions. Result: they are more exposed to the virus and have less suitable conditions for maintaining their physical, mental and economic health.