The Coronavirus Pandemic: What if there’s no home to ‘self-isolate’ in?

15th March 2020, London

“The Coronavirus could seriously affect people already sick.
Volunteers are neither trained, nor equipped,
to detect symptoms and advise people in the camps.”
– L’Auberge des Migrant –

This past week has been stressful. In fact, it’s been so stressful, that I have seriously begun to miss the eye-rolling mundane emptiness of any news associated with Brexit.

The reason for the epic levels of stress being felt on a global scale, is of course the result of the Coronavirus / Covid-19 pandemic.  A pandemic that has taken hundreds of lives in some of the world’s most stable and richest countries, and which threatens to completely dismantle our ways of living, our understanding of society and sanctuary, and demolish the luxuries we have taken for granted for so long.

For us here at O’s Refugee Aid Team, Covid-19 has meant a week of wondering what on earth to do.

After all, today, Sunday 15th March 2020, was meant to be the day when we were scheduled to be putting a call out for all the goods we needed for our next aid convoy: a convoy set to leave these shores on Friday 20th March for two days, and during which we had hoped to bring some much needed bulk relief for refugees and volunteers alike in the lead up to Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year (Friday 20th March 2020).

Instead, increased news of travel bans, public clampdowns in France, enforced quarantines, rising death tolls, and a potential first case of the virus entering one of the refugee sites in Calais, has forced us to stop ourselves from ploughing ahead, and start re-configuring what delivering aid at this time might look like from the UK.

The MRS Team – facing this new crisis as best they can.

We also can’t help wondering how on earth frontline volunteers on the ground are meant to cope with yet another new challenge to both themselves and those they are caring for.

Frontline responders like Charlie’s team at  Mobile Refugee Support, and all the Refugee Women’s Centre team, have had a cripplingly exhaustive week trying to fathom how to change their distribution systems to better safeguard everyone, whilst still getting goods and services out to people.

This past Thursday, first response organisations L’Auberge des Migrants and Utopia 56, representing all who are working to save refugees across Calais and Dunkirk, met with the sub-prefect (official representatives) for the region with one aim: to specifically ask what they were going to do to help refugees in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

After all, calls to ‘self-isolate’, to wash hands more frequently with soap and clean water, to stay at a safe distance from people, and to stay within the safe confines of a house, is NOT a call that can be heeded by refugees stuck in unthinkable living conditions already.

The response? Gut-wrenchingly inadequate. Leading to pleas now being made to governments to house vulnerable refugees and the sick in locations which are safe, sanitised, and have the luxury of walls.

Meanwhile, to date, not a single mainstream news channel or paper on my newsfeed has dared or bothered to highlight what the pandemic could mean for those without a home. Especially the millions stuck in brutal conditions in refugee camps.

Maybe with people of means already ransacking supermarket shelves as if they were the last of the human race, and so many worried about having to cancel their holidays flights and cruises, there isn’t room enough on our news bulletins to recognise that for so, so many of our fellow human beings, this pandemic is about to become utterly inescapable.

Not just for our refugees, but for frontline volunteers too.

So please, don’t forget our refugees in this new time of fear. Or the people working their hearts out trying to save them.

And whilst I’m still unsure what will happen come Friday, I do know that our flexi ferry ticket is ready and waiting.

And should that fail, at the very least, our precious pounds and pennies can go on assisting teams already on the ground, risking their all to do what we cannot.

We shall be splitting all donated funds received by Thursday 19th March 2020,
between all our teams, regardless of whether or not we can join them physically with goods.