Posted on Mar 20, 2020
As we are about to commemorate International Day Against Racism on 21st March, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) alerts to the fact that the Covid-19 crisis is exacerbating structural racism and inequalities in society, with vulnerable and disadvantaged groups bearing the brunt of its impact. As the struggle to contain the virus seems to mainly protect the most privileged, we need to rethink a system that is failing to deliver equality and justice for the most marginalised and refocus on solidarity to tackle the deep challenges ahead of us.
No one is immune to the Covid-19 crisis, but it impacts refugees at the borders, undocumented people, low income families, homeless people, elderly people, women, people with disabilities or a chronic illness – including many racialised people – more. They have less or no access to health services, many already in precarious work will have even less job security with restriction measures in place across Europe, and some don’t even have homes.
Messages and policies related to the containment strategy show to what extent European societies work mostly for the most privileged, overlooking those without homes, without possibility to work remotely, having to be overly exposed to the virus. It is striking to see how, in times of crisis, equality measures are often empty words for marginalised people - although some of the most precarious jobs in society are now becoming the most crucial.
At the same time, domestic roles of home care providers and caretakers and the health system rely on thousands of migrant and racialised professionals. If they were to leave the healthcare sector in many Member States, it would collapse.
This crisis reveals the need to overcome systemic inequality in neoliberal economies. In another recent protection crisis, we have seen the resounding failure of both national governments and the European Union to protect people seeking refuge and address racist violence at the EU’s borders. In the short term, we call for basic services, in particular healthcare, to be provided to all regardless of immigration status, race, nationality etc.
Many ENAR members are already doing their part to ensure that solidarity and justice are upheld during these crises. We call on governments to seize this opportunity and act for systemic change that will tackle structural inequalities and look at the intersections of different forms of oppression. This would also be a crucial condition to ensure our societies become more resilient in the future.
Karen Taylor, Chair of the European Network Against Racism, said: “To overcome this crisis, we urgently need community-based responses. We need to revive the power of the collective to resist individualism and isolation, and use the time we have to organise solidarity actions. As demonstrations for International Day Against Racism are being cancelled, we must continue to organise for justice and make solidarity contagious within our own communities. In addition, EU Member States should adopt comprehensive national action plans against racism as a way to address structural racism and discrimination.”
Ahmed Moawia from the Greek Forum of Migrants said: “We are deeply concerned about the way Greece and the European Union are handling the refugee and migration situation. It should be treated as a European issue. The right to asylum and the respect for human rights must be protected. With the Covid 19 pandemic we should take extra care of all vulnerable people. We ask that EU Member States immediately relocate asylum seekers from the Greek islands to the mainland and other Member States, and that the EU revise the EU-Turkey Agreement. EU Member States should also refrain from stigmatising some countries as being responsible for the Covid 19 pandemic. We must act with solidarity for all.”
Maddalena Avon from the Centre for Peace Studies in Croatia said: “National governments, in particular in Greece, must consider using public and private empty buildings to accommodate people in overcrowded refugee camps and asylum seeker centres, in order to ensure basic health services and proper hygienic living conditions to inhabitants. EU and national governments should also ensure solutions for all those refugees finding themselves in unstable and unsafe situations at the external borders of the EU.”
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