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Grace Xu: A call for attention to the covid-imposed problems of the “moving population”

Many events made themselves unforgettable in the past year, such as the many protests (BLM, polish abortion-law, MAGA), the fires (Australia, West Coast) and the election (Biden vs Trump). Some, however pressing, have seemingly been forgotten by the mainstream media. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have shown us the vulnerable side of humanity as we gradually found out the limits of our mental and physical capacity to endure it. Yet what is worse is that all the external craze around the globe and our inescapable internal struggle have made already vulnerable groups more defenseless towards the implications of the pandemic, by shifting our attention away from their calls for help.

The refugee status in Greece

Nearly 15,000 refugees stranded on the Greek islands known as the “hotspots” are suffering from severe mental health issues and virus infection due to their poor living conditions and the stagnant process of asylum-seeking that perpetuates their dire situation. According to the data collected from about 1,000 refugees in these “hotspots”, one out of three refugees have thought of taking their own lives, an alarming number of them being underage, and a quarter of the population have already attempted to do so. After the fire in camp Moria - an overcrowded and underfunded temporary home to thousands of asylum-seekers - many have fled and are living in tents, a “home” even more unimaginable to live in under stormy and cold weather conditions. The serious physical exhaustion and mental frustration has exposed many refugees to depression and sleeping disorders.

“You left home because you felt hopeless, unsafe and with a massive distrust with the system. You reached Europe and you started to stabilise your mood, but then COVID-19 destroyed all of this triggering the same feeling they had when they were fleeing their own country”, the director of Humanity Crew, an NGO providing refugees with psychological assistance in Samos, commented on the situation.

With new lockdown orders from the government, stricter restrictions on movement were placed that imposed another roadblock upon a refugee’s path to seek asylum in Europe, triggering an “alarming spike” in mental health issues.

The unattended and displaced child refugees

Parentless and stateless, while struggling in insecure conditions within a foreign country, more than 4,000 children at the refugee camps in Greece are now helplessly at risk of Covid-19 infections and the preying of traffickers. The situation spiraled down as Greece struggled to deal with the displacement of thousands of refugees after the Moria fire. Despite most of the refugees having been evacuated, the children are still facing a severe lack of necessary parental care, education and nutrition, all of which are impossible to acquire at the sufficient amount in such “inhumane and severely overcrowded” conditions. There were projects aimed at bringing those children to other EU countries to receive treatment and shelter, such as the Dubs Amendment, but the inevitable delay in the transferring procedure due to the pandemic has practically made it a “mission impossible”. As one of the countries accepting child refugees, the UK has pledged to offer necessary assistance to the child refugees in Greece, but the process of safe transfer will only be enacted if the children’s documents pass all the “red tape” and the ponderous legal logistics - a requirement that has been unsurprisingly difficult for the refugees to meet during the pandemic.

Brexit: more than 6,000 EU citizens waiting for legal stay in Britain

Over 6,000 EU citizens in the UK are worrying about their “unsettled” future - wondering where they will end up or whether they will lose their job, while waiting for the completion of their application for legal settlement in the UK. Even though the Home Office has set up a funding program to help the unsettled EU citizens get their application going during this pandemic, many still have been left out of this scheme or simply are not able to apply due to a delay in the legal procedure caused by the pandemic. The application procedure itself was already complicated enough in normal times, as it requires multiple legal papers and evidence, and it has become almost unachievable during a pandemic. To add to the existing stress, missing the deadline could mean the loss of legal status in the UK and deportation. According to a project staff member from the mental health organisation: NewPort Mind, working on this particular issue has been significantly more difficult to get support for unsettled people, among whom the most affected are the elderly, the disabled, and the homeless.

While we are gasping at the madness-filled headlines, the already vulnerable and without means, were fighting their battles quietly outside of the media attention. And we seem to have forgotten about their call for help as they gradually fade out of the mainstream media, which has left room for the exploitation and perpetuation of their suffering. Perhaps, it is time for us to stop the scrolling finger and start thinking about how we can contribute, even in the slightest, to keep vulnerable needs in the sight and mind of all.

Written by Grace Xu, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons.

Reference list:

Chantal Da Silva. (2020, December 10). British MPs Issue Cross-Party Call For Government To Let Vulnerable Refugee Children Into UK. Forbes.

Virginia Pietromarchi. (2020, December 17). EU policy ‘worsening’ mental health for refugees on Greek islands. Aljzazeera.

Sion Pennar. (2021, January 7). Brexit: '6,000' EU citizens in Wales yet to apply for settled status. BBC News.

Helier Cheung. (2020, December 27). Seismic change: How Covid-19 altered world events in 2020. BBC News.

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