Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

sign draped across a building that reads refugees welcome
Ellen Coburn

28th July 2021

 

The EU migrant return policy aims to increase return rates of asylum seekers to their country of origin by making border procedures as efficient as possible. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most contentious yet foundational elements of the Common European Asylum System. Since the increased amount of people fleeing wars in 2015 and seeking refuge in Europe, EU asylum policy has been polarising, with Europe often being dubbed “Fortress Europe” – an impassable fort with watchtowers and border guards prepared to stop at nothing to keep those seeking refuge out. In April 2021, the EU unveiled its very first strategy aimed at encouraging rejected asylum seekers to voluntarily return home and begin a process of reintegration in their country of origin.

 

On the surface level, this new scheme is marketed as being hugely cost efficient for EU member states and as a “more dignified way” for asylum seekers to return home, according to Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for home affairs. But does the voluntary returns and reintegration scheme really promote a more humane, compassionate approach to rejected asylum seekers and demolish the xenophobic backdrop of “Fortress Europe”?  Even so, the system of voluntary returns begs a wider question, one that brings ethics and humanitarian concerns to the table and one that asks, is the right of asylum threatened?

 

“If a migrant chooses to voluntarily return to their country of origin or transit, member states may offer to cover travel expenses to assist the return of the applicant and also offer financial assistance for a period of time upon arrival back to the country of origin.”

Before answering these questions, what positives, if any, arise from the EU’s new proposal? The new voluntary return strategy represents a key objective under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum which represents a holistic and inclusive approach that gathers together relevant EU policies to create a long-term and sustainable asylum and migration system. It differs from previous schemes in that the 2021 proposal provides a clearer framework for setting up assisted return programmes focusing on the reintegration of migrants who do not have the right to reside in the EU. If a migrant chooses to voluntarily return to their country of origin or transit, member states may offer to cover travel expenses to assist the return of the applicant and also offer financial assistance for a period of time upon arrival back to the country of origin. According to the Commission to the European Parliament and Council, the new system will focus on reintegration as a core component of a common EU system for returns and will theoretically help defeat the psychological and socio-economic difficulties that can arise from migrants returning to the community they fled from.  But what happens when voluntary return is neither humane nor ethical? Already the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the European Parliament have criticised the new returns scheme and have presented studies outlining the drawbacks in implementing a procedure merging asylum and returns, particularly with regards to cases concerning non-refoulement (the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution).  

 

In 2018, a case involving voluntary return was brought to the European Court of Human Rights. The case originated in an application against the Republic of Finland by an Iraqi national who alleged that the expulsion of her late father to Iraq violated several articles in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. After multiple assassination attempts were made on the applicant’s father’s life following his line of work, he sought international protection in Finland. However, over a year later, the asylum application of the applicant’s father was rejected by Finnish Immigration Services. Finnish Immigration Services accepted the facts laid out by the applicant’s father of the assassination attempts made on his life including shootings and car bomb attacks but stated that what the applicant’s father disclosed was hearsay and that these incidences had nothing to do with his personal circumstances or background. Finnish government officials believed that there was no imminent threat to this man’s life and he was to be returned to Iraq. Assisted voluntary return was granted to the applicant’s father and in November 2017, he left Finland. In December 2017, the applicant’s father was murdered by gunshot wounds to the head and body.  

 

The story of this case is by no means an isolated incident. Rejected asylum applications are a narrative known all too well by migrants around the globe who flee their homes, families, and friends because of imminent danger in search of a brighter, more hopeful future. Those who suffer the most unimaginable hardships, harrowing journeys and inexplicable losses are rejected and failed by a system that focuses more on how the EU can send away those who are the most vulnerable instead of prioritising reform of EU immigration services. Instead of focusing on returns, immigration services should instead be more focused on ensuring proper integration for those seeking asylum and proper alternatives to returning migrants. While the prospect of financial assistance and reintegration plans seem theoretically sound and optimistic, they stand for nothing when one must return to a country where political unrest, violence and war are rife.  

 

If the shoe was on the other foot, wouldn’t we want to be treated with compassion and empathy without the fear of deportation to a country that puts human life in imminent danger? Would the EU care more if these migrants were white Americans and not dark-skinned Middle-Eastern people? Perhaps this is a one-dimensional way of thinking about what is a very complex policy, but when a rejected migrant’s only option is to leave the country they sacrificed so much to get to, it makes me wonder, how ‘voluntary’ is voluntary return?

 

 

 

Featured photo by Maria Teneva

This article was supported by: Programme Assistant Alex

 

Humanitarian activist profiles

Humanitarian activist profiles

Humanitarian activist profiles

fist raised close to the camera
amyrose - stand news

23rd July 2021

 

Nancy Herz was born in 1996. She is a Lebanese-Norweigien activist for human rights, women’s rights and religious freedoms. The principles of feminism, anti-racism and free speech are at the core of her work. In 2016, Herz’s article “We Are The Shameless Arab Women and Our Time Starts Now” kick started the #shameless movement in Norway. The aim was to reclaim a word often used derogatorily against Muslim or Arabic women: ‘shameless’. Herz has become a figure of public discourse on the topic. She advocates for women and girls to free themselves from any constrictive gender roles assigned to them – be it due to institutional patriarchal systems or a religious shame-honour culture.

 

A year later, alongside Amina Bile and Sofia Nesrine Srour, Herz published the book Shameless, cataloguing the stories of Muslim women and girls who have experienced negative social control. Their stories of limitation are on one hand inspiring and on the other a reminder that society has some way to go before stereotyping and stigmatisation against women, and specifically Arabic women living in Europe. They have received the Shameless Award (2016) and the Fritt Ord Tribute (2017) for their work.

 

Herz has worked with Amnesty International since she was aged 15 and is now a deputy member of Amnesty’s Norweigian board. She told Amnesty International: “This is what fighting against injustice is about. By using our voices, we can make the space for freedom of expression bigger… it’s an ongoing struggle, but I believe that we have to keep pushing towards a world in which everyone can enjoy their basic right of living freely.” In 2016, Herz received the Freedom of Expression Tribute award. Her memoir, Aren’t You Getting Married Soon? will be published later this year.

 

Fabiola Gutiérrez Arce is a Peruvian political scientist and researcher. The principles of feminism, safety and accountability are at the core of her advocacy. She has campaigned for a government-led independent inquiry to investigate cases of misconduct and violation of human rights throughout the 1990s, a period in which forced sterilization of women targeted Peru’s indigenous population. Arce centres her research work on cases of violence against women in armed conflict; she has undertaken fieldwork and data collection in high-risk or dangerous locations across South America. Her academic work led to her leading the Governance Training Commission of Amnesty Peru and the Environment and Human Rights and Legal Affairs commissions.

 

Since 2017, Arce is also one of nine elected International Board Members at Amnesty International. Her work here involves advising and holding Amnesty accountable. The International Board provides global stewardship and ensures that Amnesty complies with its policies and standards. It also appoints and directs Amnesty’s Secretary General and thus plays an important role in the day-to-day running of the movement.

 

Arce told Amnesty International: “We are determined not to let the injustices of the past go unaccounted for. Peru has a huge historical debt to women, and that’s part of what motivates me to work towards shaping a different future.”

 

 

 

Featured photo by Clay Banks

This article was supported by: STAND Humanitarian Editor Amyrose + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Humanitarian crisis journalism with Philip Kleinfeld

Humanitarian crisis journalism with Philip Kleinfeld

Humanitarian crisis journalism with Philip Kleinfeld

person holding newspaper on fire
Olivia Moore

23rd June 2021

On 10 June 2021, STAND News and SIN were privileged to hear from Philip Kleinfeld, correspondent and editor with The New Humanitarian – a publication described by Kleinfeld himself as an “independent, non-profit newsroom, singularly dedicated to humanitarian crises and conflicts”. With an extensive career as a multimedia reporter investigating conflict, human rights abuses and humanitarian crises across sub-Saharan Africa, Kleinfeld could have jumped straight into his list of accolades including coverage of rebellions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, militancy in Mali and Burkina Faso, and wars in the Central African Republic and Congo-Brazzaville. However, his first words to us, urging us not to shy away from complexity for a story and not to simplify problematic narratives for the sake of ease, indicated the theme of the evening, which was very much focused away from Kleinfeld’s own achievements and very much towards turning the journalism industry into a more rounded, inclusive, and better environment.  

 

Kleinfeld acknowledged that the industry of normalisation is not really in the “empathy-generation” business. That is why the work of The New Humanitarian is so crucial – it creates stories with gripping narratives that encourage people to care and engage, but also produces analytical, constructive normalisation that provides a service, both the general public and people responding to these emergencies. However, the exceptional nature of this publication only serves to highlight the need for this sector to grow.  

 

“Kleinfeld himself reiterated the inefficiency of the traditional humanitarian sector: “it’s not ‘how can we help’, but ‘how can we apply for this grant?’” The entire sector is dominated by a small group of Western donor governments, namely the EU and the US, that control the purse strings – but also the narrative.”

Throughout the Ebola epidemic, for example, Western media focused on aid workers and the attacks on them by local communities who did not believe that Ebola was real, rather than on the details of the crisis itself.  

 

Kleinfeld explained to us that crises are becoming more complex, more multisided, more protracted, and longer, and the amount of money being requested by humanitarian groups is rising with people in more need than before. But at the same time, coverage by national media organisations is limited, simplistic, fleeting, and ultimately incompetent. The business model of journalism – which is, primarily, to make money – does not lend itself to properly cover humanitarian crises: prejudiced editors follow media revenues, dominated by domestic issues, and do not report on humanitarian crises with the consistency and complexity that such events frankly deserve. 

 

To finish off the evening, Kleinfeld provided a series of tips for aspiring journalists to try to enhance the positive trajectory promoted by The New Humanitarian in this ever-more prevalent sector of journalism. 

  1. Preparation is key: you should never set out to an area without knowing as much as is feasibly possible about the conflict. Try and stay put to build up local knowledge. 
  2. Keep it accurate: the stakes are high in a humanitarian crisis in many ways, and you owe it to the people you interview to fact check and verify your information. 
  3. Know why it matters: frame your story around the people experiencing the crisis. 
  4. Remember the boundaries: Understand the risks your local colleagues are taking by working with you. 
  5. Safeguard your sources: the people you are interviewing may be experiencing the worst day, week, or month of their lives, so do not lose sight of this in the frequency of the trauma. Do no harm – as Kleinfeld said, “You have to balance out your desire to get the story and get the facts right, and make sure this is neatly triangulated with the desires and needs of the person you are interviewing.” 
  6. Be a good person: ego, pride and the bravado behind risk-taking or being an adrenaline-junkie are the wrong reasons for engaging in this kind of work. Stay humble, do right by the profession and by the people that you interview, and don’t stop talking to friends and family. 

 

Thank you to Philip Kleinfeld for taking the time to speak to us and to inspire us to be better journalists. 

 

 

Featured photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Assistant Rachel

 

Sexual violence in conflict: the war crime no one talks about 

Sexual violence in conflict: the war crime no one talks about 

Sexual violence in conflict: the war crime no one talks about 

women holding hands
Rachael Kenny

22nd June 2021

 

Sexual violence in conflict is the war crime that no one wants to talk about. The brutal stories of women and children who are targeted during times of conflict are disturbing and unimaginable. Unfortunately, the truth of what is taking place across the globe is uncomfortable to hear but that does not mean that it should ignored. Sexual violence in conflict has been used for centuries as a tactic of war and terror and continues to be used today. Women and girls are mainly targeted but men and boys also suffer their plight. The cost of war is great but the cost of war against women and girls is incalculable. 

 

In Our Bodies: Their Battlefield, What War Does to Women, war reporter Christina Lamb spoke to survivors across four continents about their experiences of sexual violence in conflict. Lamb uncovered the astonishing suffering of girls and women in war. Lamb met with the Yazidi survivors of ISIS in 2016 and learned stories from young women who had been bought and sold, raped, and traded dozens of times by ISIS fighters who were intent on terminating their people. In the case of the Yazidi, often ISIS fighters rape and impregnate women and hold them prisoner until their babies are born. This tactic is used for creating a new generation of ISIS and eliminating the Yazidi. Lamb uncovered stories of girls as young as 8 years old being enslaved by ISIS, tortured, and raped.

 

“One survivor Lamb spoke to, Turko, revealed that women and girls are being traded on the internet alongside PlayStation consoles and second-hand cars.”

Turko was sold from her first captor to her second for 350 dollars. At the hands of her second captor, she was raped by a different Syrian every day for months and often thought of killing herself. In 2017 a military crackdown on the Rohingya people by Myanmar’s armed forces began which has since been described as close to genocide. Lamb spoke with survivors of sexual violence as they fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Women recounted stories of their children being killed in front of their eyes, which was followed by these women being tied to banana trees and gang raped. Often the acts of sexual violence were so gruesome that some women did not survive.  

 

Turko’s story and the story of the Rohingya survivors only scratch the surface of the reality of sexual violence in conflict. Although the stories that Lamb has uncovered and published are uncomfortable to read, they are important, and it is crucial that they are heard. The truth of what is happening with regards to sexual violence in conflict to thousands across the globe is horrendous. It is no longer a case where people are being taken advantage of amidst the chaos of war. These acts of sexual violence are deliberate and targeted. Unfortunately, it is easy to use rape or sexual violence as a weapon of war as it is effective and it does not cost anything.  

 

The survivors of sexual violence in conflict suffer not only physical injuries but psychological traumas too. Survivors are often faced with stigmatisation and rejection by their families and communities when they return home. As a result of this, many do not report the crimes. The U.N. estimates that for everyone rape reported in connection with a conflict, a further 10 to 20 cases go undocumented.  

 

The General Assembly’s 2015 resolution proclaimed 19 June as International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This is a day to condemn and call for the end of sexual violence in conflict which includes rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and enforced prostitution. This day honours victims and survivors and those who are fighting to end these terrorizing crimes. I urge you on this day, and every day, to learn and talk about sexual violence in conflict and overcome the discomfort it brings to you. The discomfort it will bring you to read about is no comparison to the unimaginable toll that conflict-related rape and sexual violence takes on its victims and survivors. Their scars are everlasting. 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo created using Canva

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Assistant Rachel

 

The wild and crumbling Atlantic Way: Donegal’s mica crisis is out of our government’s reach

The wild and crumbling Atlantic Way: Donegal’s mica crisis is out of our government’s reach

The wild and crumbling Atlantic Way: Donegal’s mica crisis is out of our government’s reach 

house in Donegal country side with cracks
Rachel McGonigle

14th June 2021

 

Imagine this: on the glorious green of Ireland’s northwest coast you meet your future husband. You get married, buy a plot of land and start building your dream home. A few years later, you can finally move in, just in time for your first-born child’s arrival. You paint and furnish with an array of red curtains and yellow cushion covers, only reminiscent of the early 2000s, until your heart is content with the place you now call home. It’s your safe haven, your everything. It’s 2004 and apart from the imminent struggles of the financial crash which make you contemplate up and leaving your cherished home for a country offering greater stability, Donegal is where your heart belongs. Within the four walls that offer you shelter and warmth, the walls which will host every birthday celebration and death condolence, you are protected from the elements of the wild Atlantic coast. When your children are homesick while in college, they will always find comfort and security here. Nowhere else can offer you the emotional comfort and stability that your first home can. That is until the cracks begin to show, deepening and widening with every gust of wind and raindrop that the coastline has to offer. It’s 2010 and you wake up panicking in the night with the realisation that your forever home is falling down around you.  

 

Inishowen, Donegal’s most northerly peninsula, and surrounding areas (and some parts of Mayo) are existing through the worst localised humanitarian crisis of recent times. As homes were being built during the late 1990s and early 2000s, hopeful newlyweds were unaware of the catastrophic issues that would face them some fifteen years down the line.

 

“Locals recall noticing cracks in the plaster of their walls, both inside and out. But, as ignorance is best served with a side dish of bliss, these cracks were suspected to be nothing more significant than settling cracks, as the properties relaxed into their picturesque surroundings with views of Lough Swilly.”

 

However, there are only so many servings of ignorance that can be swallowed before you burst from worry with the ultimate acceptance that something more sinister is wrong with the infrastructure of your home.  

 

Locally sourced concrete building blocks from as early as the 1980s have, of recent years, been found to be disproportionately mixed with high quantities of mineral mica, which weakens the concrete over time and causes the blocks to disintegrate and crumble. Worsened by dramatic weather conditions, which all north-westerly homes are not shy to, it is estimated that over 5,000 private homes and many more council and social homes have been infected with the defective blocks. An almost taboo subject in the 2010s, something to be embarrassed by and ashamed of, accepting that your home is inescapably crumbling down around you is not a reality anyone ever wanted to face. But the reality is that the number of family homes impacted by these defective blocks continues to rise. If not your own, then it’s your neighbour’s house, your brother’s or sister’s. Every life in the north of Donegal has been impacted by the money-saving, material-stretching tactics of family trade from over twenty years ago.  

 

The cracks widen. Gaps appear around windows and doorframes, exposing your family to the elements. Moisture ingression puts your furnishings at risk of growing mould. Just down the road, another woman’s son cries to his teacher that Mammy and Daddy are worried, and he now sleeps in his sister’s bedroom because his could fall in on him at any minute. It’s not safe to stay in here anymore; you need to get out. But it’s not so simple. On top of the psychological burden of leaving, the financial burden is insurmountable. 

 

In January 2020, the Irish government launched a redress grant scheme that would cost hundreds of millions of euros to rebuild the houses affected by defective blocks. The scheme, which was to be administered by respective county councils predominately in Donegal and Mayo, would give homeowners up to €275,000 if found that their house must be entirely demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. If your house doesn’t require complete demolition, then you’re unfortunately eligible for substantially less funding. The scheme was developed following years of campaigning by the Mica Action Group who brought light to the situation. In 2016, Prime Time revealed that the defective building blocks sold and bought in Donegal were not fit for purpose. The next year, a government-appointed expert panel found the blocks currently in use from the same supplier also not fit for purpose. Although the scheme was originally welcomed with open arms, a step in the right direction, it too is ultimately not fit for purpose.

 

“To be accepted onto the grant system, stressed parents and worried owners of these crumbling homes must pay a minimum of €5,000 for an engineer to confirm that the blocks are defective. All it takes is one look and it’s obvious that these buildings are no stronger than the box of Weetabix.”

This charge is one part of the current scheme, which will eventually reimburse you with 90% of your total expenses, leaving you, the heartbroken homeowner, liable to cover the remaining 10%. The scheme also only allows the exact same sized building frame to be reconstructed and one house can hold only one application, meaning if you apply and successfully rebuild but are met with the same trauma again a few years later, you cannot reapply. Donegal’s homeowners deserve more, 100% redress and no less. 

 

In recent weeks and months, an outcry has poured from the hills attempting to beckon the attention of the Irish Government. Stemming from a place of sheer frustration, the mica crisis can be compared to the pyrite scandal which hit the east of the country in recent years. When pyrite is exposed to moisture and oxygen, a series of chemical reactions occur leading to the cracking and heaving of ground floors and walls where the expansion is in highly compacted areas, such as dwellings. In response to these structural damages, the government put in place the Pyrite Remediation Scheme which covers 100% of the costs of repairing affected homes. What is the difference between a house in Dublin infected with pyrite and a house in Donegal infected with mica? How can our government condone anything shy of 100% remedial funding for a family home crumbling down around young children forced to share a bedroom, a retired couple who retreated to the Atlantic coast in search for serenity and peace or a newlywed husband and wife settling in fear that their home is now worthless? The answer: the short 150-mile distance from Inishowen to Dublin is a long enough stretch for our government to ignore a crisis stripping people of their human right to adequate and safe housing 

 

Although the suppliers of these defective blocks are at fault, the gravity to which our government is failing the affected counties is unsurprising, yet heart-wrenchingly frustrating. Just last week, following a presentation on the mica crisis, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar questioned whether it is reasonable to ask the taxpayer to fund the reconstruction of quite large houses given that the average cost of fixing pyrite affected homes was just €65,000. Described as being utterly “out of touch with reality”, the Tánaiste’s comments are a “calculated distraction by portraying the situation as affecting rich homeowners”, according to Cllr Jack Murray.  

 

thousands gathered at Buncrana's Shore Front to protest

 

And so, you take to the streets and protest for your voice to be heard. You’re just one family of thousands whose forever home is cracking at the seams. Over 10,000 people gathered on Buncrana’s Shore Front two weeks ago to demonstrate that they will not be forgotten, and a further 1,500 protested in Letterkenny. Although these demonstrations gained attention and showed the resilience of Donegal’s people, it wasn’t enough. Your house is crumbling and so is your hope. 

 

To show support for families affected by the mica crisis, you can join the thousands of protesters who are expected to march up to the gates of Dáil Éireann on Tuesday 15th June if it is safe for you to do so. If our government won’t acknowledge an issue too far beyond their reach, then the forgotten homeowners in Donegal will bring the problem to their doorstep. Donegal and other affected areas deserve a 100% redress scheme, and no less.  

 

 

 

 

Featured photo created using Canva + second photo author’s own

 

India’s Covid-19 inferno: What went wrong?

India’s Covid-19 inferno: What went wrong?

India’s Covid-19 inferno: What went wrong?

doctor sitting on floor with mask
Ellen Coburn

8th June 2021

 
 

During the onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic, epidemiologists predicted that “India could see the worst of it”. As home to some of the world’s most crowded cities with a population of over 1.3 billion people coupled with an ailing healthcare system, it seemed as though India was the perfect kettle of fish for the coronavirus to cast its deadly net over. Yet, the first wave of the pandemic saw India spared from the harrowing scientific prophecy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi swiftly announced a nationwide lockdown of the entire population for three weeks in early 2020 which, at the time, was the most severe step taken anywhere in the world. While this decisive action proved effective, it seems as though a false sense of normalcy crept back into society as in October 2020, the Indian government scientists speculated India had reached herd immunity and in January 2021 Prime Minister Modi spoke at the World Economic Forum declaring the virus had been defeated. Subsequently, big religious gatherings went ahead, public places were reopened and crowded election rallies were held without adequate social distancing or hygiene measures. Thus, the Covid-19 tsunami that crashed onto the shores of India ensued and with it not only a public health emergency, but a humanitarian crisis.

 

What was to come in 2021 were stories of no oxygen for hospitalised patients, bodies burning on pyres in the streets, bodies washing up on the banks of rivers, mass cremations and intensely overwhelmed hospitals. 

 

“Only, these are not just stories. This is real life. This devastating situation accentuates the fact that there is no room for complacency in the face of a deadly virus while simultaneously showing how India’s unfolding humanitarian crisis exacerbates its underlying human rights issues.”

But before this is explored, what caused such a colossal increase in Covid-19 cases in India in the first place? It is difficult to attribute the surge to one factor alone. Rather, it seems as though a myriad of elements fused together to create what the World Health Organization has dubbed “the perfect storm”. The daily case numbers in India began rising towards the end of February 2021 after continuing to fall since September 2020. The spike in cases came as one coronavirus variant found to be circulating in India, the B1617 variant which has two mutations, became more prominent and began spreading rapidly throughout the densely populated country. What seems to have aggravated the situation further however, was the holding of political rallies, religious celebrations and vaccine shortages, all of which created the ideal breeding ground for this more infectious and deadly disease to proliferate indiscriminately.  

 

The Vice President of the Indian Medical Association, Dr Navjot Dahiya, labelled Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “super spreader” of the virus after enabling political rallies to take place and allowing religious festival celebrations to occur while India was on its knees recording record-breaking daily infections. In April, millions of people gathered in Uttarakhand’s city of Haridwar to take a holy dip in the river Ganges as part of the Hindu festival Kumbh Mela. Festival goers for the most part, failed to follow Covid-19 hygiene measures and it later emerged that over 2,642 devotees tested positive for the virus, including numerous religious leaders. Critics of the Prime Minster claim that his reluctance to call off the gathering was due to the backlash that he could potentially face from Hindu religious leaders, who are amongst the most important and influential supporters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, particularly during election times.  

 

As election rallies continued to go ahead around the country, the rate at which the coronavirus was multiplying continued to accelerate. Thousands of people gathered in West Benegal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu for a series of state elections that saw Covid-19 guidelines largely flouted. As Modi allowed such mass gatherings to take place, it becomes difficult to ignore the possibility that his government’s handling of the pandemic, particularly India’s devasting second wave, is largely characterised by self-serving political interests as opposed to public health and safety. 

 

In an interview for the BBC, Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, declares that India’s Covid-19 outbreak is the “worst humanitarian crisis” he has witnessed. In a country that is generally one not poorly endowed, Dr Laxminarayan continues, there are shortages of beds, drugs and testing is not readily available in some of the country’s best hospitals as people continue to suffocate from lack of oxygen on the streets and, as bodies wash up on the banks of the river Ganges due to an overflow in the country’s crematoriums.   

 

Solidarity with the humanitarian crisis in India has been seen around the globe including from Ireland who sent 700 oxygen concentrators supplied through the European Civil Protection Mechanism. However, while international donors are raising millions, Modi’s government passed an amendment in September 2020 with little warning that limits international charities who donate to local non-profits. As reported in the New York Times, the amendment gutted reliable sources of funding for countless NGOs that were already “stretched thin” by the pandemic. It prompted international charities to reduce donations that supported local efforts in areas such as health and education. When India urgently needed international donations, Modi’s government seem to have put the nail in the coffin. Moreover, alarmingly Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister spoke about utilising India’s oppressive National Security Act against people who speak out on social media about the lack of medical supplies. The authorities in Uttar Pradesh went onto file criminal charges against a man who pleaded on Twitter for oxygen for his dying grandfather. The same authorities also sent notices of complaint to three journalists who reported that oxygen supplies had been diverted from a district suffering heavily with the coronavirus and sent elsewhere.  

 

Right when Modi’s government should be upholding the rights of citizens the most, it seems that censorship has defined the majority of actions taken against those desperately seeking help online. The humanitarian crisis India has witnessed has exacerbated underlying human and civil rights issues as well as governmental flaws in their dealing with the pandemic. But this is not the only thing it has underlined. As restrictions behind to relax all over Europe, I cannot help but wonder, will the public health emergency witnessed in India have a successor? Complacency is a dangerous game to play in times like these and as we all know, if you play with fire, you will inevitably get burned.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Mulyadi on Unsplash

This article was supported by: Programme Assistant Rachel