Prisoners of lockdown – The double seclusion of refugee and asylum-seeker people

If the pandemic outbreak and consequent lockdown measures have impacted us all, changing our habits, challenging our balance and narrowing our horizons, the most vulnerable of us – among which refugee and asylum-seeker populations, have had to struggle with specific issues.

While we all share a common fear of getting infected by the virus, we are not equal facing it, and some of us, due to their conditions of life or fragile health, are at a greater risk to both catch the virus and develop a severe form of the disease. Living in shelters, crowded shared apartments if not in camps or in the streets, most refugee and asylum-seeker people do not have the possibility to respect measures of physical distance. Most of them being unemployed – waiting to acquire the refugee status to get a legal job or having lost theirs due to the sanitary and economic crisis, thus living on a very low or nonexistent income, they often times do not have the means to afford masks nor hydroalcoholic gel for themselves let alone a whole family.

Less protected from the virus, asylum-seekers moreover may not be able to access the appropriate healthcare services if they get infected. The majority of them, waiting for the decision concerning their request for asylum or having received a rejection, indeed does not possess the required papers to be allowed into a hospital.

As it is the case for us all, threats on asylum-seeker and refugee people’s health are not only physical ; those times force us into a mental struggle as well. The general atmosphere, which may not be too disturbing or unfamiliar per se to some refugees and asylum-seekers, who have lived through other epidemic experiences in their countries of origin, can however revive some traumatic memories of those periods. The promiscuity of the collective dwellings they live in, while preventing any protective sanitary measure or isolation, makes even more difficult the creation of necessary spaces of loneliness and self-care, peaceful breathing and mental escape. In this context of tension, uncertainty and forced cohabitation, violence is on the rise – women, children as well as LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum-seekers are particularly vulnerable.

Meanwhile, the mobility restrictions and closing orders on many activities and public services slow down NGOs and asylum services’ functioning, in a moment when they probably are the most needed. To the uncertainty of one’s future and silence of authorities thus add a feeling of double-isolation, and sometimes abandonment from organizations, nonetheless working endlessly to adapt and meet ever-growing needs.

In those times of great restrictions, going for a walk seems to remain one of the last freedoms we have. Yet, even such a moment of pleasure and relief becomes a challenge and source of anxiety for asylum-seeker people who fear being controlled and arrested at each step.

And while most of us, when this situation comes to an end, will be free again, for others, lockdown, which was never an “exceptional state”, will remain.

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