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Including Non-Lebanese in your COVID-19 Response Plans is not an Option, it’s a Necessity

Monday, 6 April, 2020

There are around 1.5 million non-Lebanese people in Lebanon and yet most COVID-19 response plans target Lebanese people only. Viruses do not target people based on their nationality or their legal status. Any response plan that does not take this into account is severely flawed and puts all residents, Lebanese and non-Lebanese, at risk. We urge the government, international organisations and local initiatives to implement inclusive and non-discriminatory response plans.

The living conditions of refugees and freelance migrant domestic workers puts them at higher risk of contagion: 

  1. Refugees and migrants who have expired residence permits might be reluctant to go to the hospital to get tested or treated, for fear of being arrested;

  2. Many live in overcrowded camps or apartments and do not have any facilities for self-isolation, which means that one person with COVID-19 can lead to a drastic increase in cases;

  3. Self-isolation is a luxury most of them cannot afford, which means that those who are still working are interacting with a lot of different people;

  4. They don’t have the luxury of private cars, which means they have to use public transportation;

  5. Most of them have limited access to clean water, disinfectants, gloves, and masks.

In addition to the health risks, refugees and migrant workers are suffering serious financial losses pushing them to extreme poverty. The stringent self-isolation policy imposed by the government causes a massive loss of jobs among refugees and migrants. Those who still have jobs are struggling to reach their workplaces due to the decreased availability of public transportation. Compounded with the losses resulting from the ongoing economic crisis and devaluation of the currency, refugees and migrants are struggling to secure their basic needs, including food, hygiene products, and rent.

As a result of the economic crisis, thousands of migrant workers registered with their embassies and consulates to be repatriated to their countries. Some of these workers incurred debts in order to pay for their penalty fees, plane tickets, and sometimes registration costs with their consulates. With the border closures, they are now trapped in the country with no money and no work.

Although strict self-isolation measures are imposed on Lebanese and non-Lebanese alike, some municipalities (Chakka, Kfarhazir, Abrin, and Baalbek-Hermel Mohafez) and politicians are singling out migrants and refugees in their public announcements and decisions. This is unacceptable racial discrimination that leads to further tensions and marginalization. 

 

We urge the government to implement inclusive and non-discriminatory response plans, particularly:

  • Include non-Lebanese in disaster relief strategies and implementation, including direct cash assistance;

  • Prohibit public authorities, namely municipalities, from singling out people of specific nationalities in their calls for self-isolation and curfews. Any restrictions on freedom of movement, or other measures instituted by governments, should be applied to everyone equally and without discrimination based on nationality or legal status;

  • Refrain from linking the coronavirus with any particular population group, in order to push a racist or populist political agenda.

We call on the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities to:

  • Issue a decision to stop the arrest of irregular migrants and refugees who do not have a valid residence permit. Arrests constitute a deterrent for migrants and refugees to get tested and seek care and this is a threat not only to their safety but also to the safety of all residents, Lebanese and non-Lebanese alike;

  • We call on the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities to prohibit municipalities from singling out people of specific nationalities in their calls for self-isolation and curfews.

We call on the Ministry of Health to:

  • Cover the cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment for migrant workers Issue a circular for all hospitals to accept testing and treating patients for COVID-19 regardless of their nationality and legal status, including validity and/or availability of their residence permit or identification;

  • Ensure that all hospital staff, including security personnel at the door, are informed that a lack of identification papers or residence permit does not disqualify a person from getting tested / treated for COVID-19.

We call on consulates and embassies of migrant workers to:

  • Launch emergency programs and provide cash assistance and/or food packages to migrant workers who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis;

  • Coordinate with international organisations to build or rent isolation facilities for migrant workers who test positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms that do not require hospitalization;

  • Charter planes to evacuate migrants who have registered for repatriation as soon as possible, while taking all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including testing all passengers.

  • Reopen registration for repatriation, via online registration systems, and in accordance to the General Security’s amnesty on penalty fees.

We call on funders of local and international organisations operating in Lebanon to:

  • Provide flexible funding and allow partner organisations to utilize funds in ways they feel are best for their organisations and communities;

  • Allow the suspension of activities that do not respond to the many crises and emergencies that Lebanon is currently going through;

  • Be in conversation with partner organisations around the best ways forward in these difficult times.

We call on international organisations to:

  • Restructure their work and staff to meet the requirements of this new emergency situation by cancelling any planned projects and activities that are not absolutely necessary and redirecting the funds initially dedicated to those activities to direct relief efforts;

  • Intensify efforts to rent and/or build isolation facilities for refugees and migrants who test positive but who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms that do not require hospitalization;

  • We call on the UNHCR to continue to cover the cost of testing and treatment for refugees and include asylum seekers and people of concern in their response plans as well, through its own funds or a collective fund created by a coalition of international organisations working with non-Lebanese populations as well;

  • We call on UNRWA to cover the cost of testing and treatment for Palestinian refugees;

  • We call on the International Organisation of Migration to cover the cost of testing and treatment for migrant workers through its own funds or a collective fund created by a coalition of international organisations working with migrants.

We call on employers of freelance domestic workers to:

  • Pay the worker for every work shift that they ask her not to complete during the self-isolation period.

We call on local solidarity initiatives to:

  • Include non-Lebanese in their distribution of food and hygiene packages.