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What does Covid 19 Mean for Refugees?

Refugees are welcome…but not all may be well.

Nearly half of a refugee camp in Ellwangen, Germany test positive for COVID 19. 251 of the 606 refugees who are in holding have tested positive.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/15/refugees-in-german-centre-fear-lack-of-protection-as-covid-19-cases-soar

134,753 cases of COVID 19 have been reported in Germany (Wikipedia, 16th April 2020), this is in stark contrast to its’ 83 million population (Eurostat). If the spread of infection mimicked the Ellwangen camp, we may see up to 41.5 Million people infected within Germany’s borders.

However, this is not the case. This is not the case because people are living in confinement with up to 6 people: their families, their flatmates, their partner, not 605 others.

People within the refugee camp are being expected to stay in the same living conditions as those infected, as The Guardian reports. It may be one thing to share a canteen, but it is another to share a kitchen, and to have to live in the same flat as other people who are positive for Covid 19. It is doubtful that social distancing is upheld within corridors.

It is therefore no surprise that nearly half of Ellwangen camp’s population is now positive for coronavirus.

These residents are being expected-not asked, to put their lives at risk, and put lives of others at risk. These are people from poor and traumatic backgrounds, who have fled their own lands for fear of their own lives. Who would have thought that reaching the Western world would have increased their chances of death. The irony is that they may well have been safer in their own homelands.

These people are from countries like Syria and Ghana, who have relatively few cases. Syria at last report had 33 cases, and Ghana 641 (Wikipedia, 16th april 2020). Unfortunately, if they were in their own countries, they would have the relative freedom to roam, but instead they find themselves in a false sense of security.

The residents here share showers and toilets, they share a canteen, they share flats, they are in effect communing with 605 others. It is a petri dish of disease waiting to happen, and so unfortunate for these people, it already has.

According to the article in The Guardian, most of the residents at the camp are male and with a higher rate of Covid 19 death being found within males; the lives of refugees may find their hopes of a better life, very much come to an end, before they even set foot on free ground.

In defence of the council responsible for Ellwangen Refugee Camp, measures have been made. Disinfectant and masks have all been made widely available, however that is subject to ‘when’ these measures were put in place. A quarantine area was only set up on the 6th April (Philip Oltermann,The Guardian, 15th April 2020) This was merely 10 days ago, with Germany applying strict social distancing measures on the 22nd March, (https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-what-are-the-lockdown-measures-across-europe/a-52905137) over 2 weeks for this situation to manifest, before serious action was taken. It is no wonder cases have exploded there. Sadly, social distancing does not seem to be enforced at the refugee camp: if pictures of a tight canteen queue within The Guardian article, are anything to go by.

The Guardian article cites that residents were reporting to refugee organisations that positive cases were still eating in the same canteen up until Monday 13th April; despite the proclaimed quarantine area set up by the region’s council on the 6th April.

As The Guardian article explains, there have been calls for initiatives to move refugees out of the camps and into isolated accommodation. 30 refugees were moved to hotels and hostels in Freiburg (Philip Oltermann,The Guardian, 15th April 2020). With all hotels and hostels lying empty; it is highly questionable as to why this has not been done on a grander scale sooner.

Great Britain has taken the initiative to move its’ homeless off the streets and into unoccupied hotels and hostels, there is no reason why this cannot be done for refugees.

It is widely known that Germany have approached this pandemic by rolling out testing on a massive scale; the figures of Covid 19 within the camp are only known because of this measure. This is in contrast to the rest of Europe. If half the inhabitants of a refugee camp are infected in Germany, what might the situation be in other refugee camps across Europe, whose death rates are far higher than Germany and positive cases likely to far outweigh those detected?

It is sad that in a country like Germany, who have so cleverly used their resources to control this pandemic, seem to have forgotten about those most vulnerable. It is assumed the reason for mass testing, was to control the spread of infection and to gain the bigger picture. However, it seems Germany’s newest residents do not seem to factor into that.

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