“Social Distancing” is not possible in a Refugee Camp

Everything stage of the refugee journey is risky during a pandemic

148 people at a Greek refugee camp have tested positive for coronavirus. The most common part of the refugee experience is crowds. Overcrowding, a shortage of medicine, crowded boats, trains, cars, long flights, long lines, long waits. These things are all part of daily life for refugees. Social distancing is not possible when you are being warehoused in a camp or a jail.

Predictably, media coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus emergency has focused on the disruption and danger to the lives of wealthy Americans, Asians and Europeans. A few have noted the dangers for poorer countries in the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa. I even saw a smattering of articles on the homeless.

But the poorest country of them all, the vast, unrecognized state inhabited by over 60 million people in limbo, who have next to no health care, no right of movement and who spend most of their days packed into tents, small rooms, crowded boats and trains, these people are going to be most at risk of infection and least able to see a doctor. Yet their fate, so often discussed in the media when it was politically expedient, is now totally invisible.

The coronavirus will flatten all lies. It has already destroyed the lie that borders will make us safe. It has already destroyed the lie that immigrants are the biggest threat. It will now rip a giant hole right through the lie that refugee camps are good public policy, or, indeed, that they are anything other than a monstrous crime.