By: Lilia Anderson
As warmer weather sprung forward, as flowers blossomed and days elongated—we stayed home. We stayed home from our normal activities and jobs—not only for our own personal health, but in respect to all of the first responders and essential workers. In order to pass the long days of quarantine, some people transformed into pastry chefs, some caught up on the book series they always wanted to read and many binge-watched Netflix (hello, Tiger King). COVID-19 impacted every experience, every holiday, every life. Hundreds of thousands of lives around the globe were flipped upside down by illness, economic hardships, mental health deterioration and the loss of life.
COVID-19 does not operate within a system of equality. It has primarily devastated oppressed communities in this country and around the globe. More specifically, a large group of refugees impacted by COVID-19 deserves our attention and advocacy. This group of people could not possibly comply with stay-at-home orders, as they have been forced to flee their homes.
Currently, there are over 79,500,000 forcibly displaced individuals around the world. Nearly half of them possess the status of refugee or asylum-seeker, meaning they are sheltering outside of their home country. These statistics, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), mean that these people cannot safely return to their homes.
UN member states have the responsibility to protect refugees and asylum-seekers—the most holistic manner of protection is often allotting dollars to resettlement and border admission. Certainly, due to the limited resources available in camps and the lack of medical attention, these individuals require assistance now more than ever—as they are at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19.
Certainly, refugees would be deemed essential. When refugees shockingly were deemed non-essential, and when the CDC ordered that the Mexican border turn away asylum seekers during the pandemic, the United States would dedicate time and money to support these families they are sending back.
Certainly, unaccompanied refugee minors, a classification that is defined by children who have lost the adults in their lives and become forced to survive alone, would be allowed admission to the United States. Certainly, the United States would not expel or detain these children. Surely, the United States would not violate the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
Certainly, Congress would investigate the horrific practices of denying asylum during a pandemic to those fleeing—especially children. At the very least, the tax-paying refugees and immigrants that have relocated to the United States would be eligible for the COVID-19 stimulus packages.
None of these things were certain. None of them are certain. None of these oppressed people were offered protection. Mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers arriving at the border to escape warzones and impoverished cities have been abandoned. The COVID-19 pandemic, though consistently underplayed and passed over by the Trump administration, has been adopted as a channel to restrict immigration and to structurally prohibit the freedom of millions of people.
We owe it to the world to welcome refugees and provide asylum.
Certainly, the United States of America must rededicate itself to embracing compassion.