COVID-19 | Editorial

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Photo: Chloe Evans sur Unsplash

On why we exist

Northern African countries have become, in the latest years, vibrant hubs for migrant communities.

Migrants from West and Central Africa on their way to Europe often pass through the northern part of the continent. Many of them decide or are forced, to make these transitory countries home, at least for a while. Others reside in North African countries for study or work, temporarily or on a long-term basis. Others yet are refugees, forced out from their homelands, in search of safety. Yet, their status is transient, changing with their circumstances and aspirations.

Their experiences in these host countries are as diverse as their motivations and objectives. Their lives are as complex as the human condition. They are social and economic agents, with an impact on their home and host communities. They represent young hopes of large families, a new definition of courage and what it means to show up every day.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) explains that in exceptional circumstances, such as the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on national decisions such as confinement and personal behaviour such as social distancing, the vulnerability of migrants and refugees is double fold: “they [not only] face similar health threats from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as their host populations”, they also must rely on inadequate living and working conditions to get through. They are more often “excluded from national programmes for health promotion, disease prevention, treatment and care, as well as from financial protection schemes for health and social services”. When these conditions bleed into the spread of a deadly virus, their impact is disastrous.

Different organisations used different formulations to explain to governments and individuals what the rights of migrants and refugees are, particularity in light of the coronavirus. The WHO talks of “the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” and “participation and social inclusion”, while the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) explains that our “collective humanity” is at risk and that we need an “international approach that leaves no-one behind”.

What it comes down to essentially is the need for increased knowledge about and focus on what brings us together as people, as beings. We are, as many have pointed out, facing a disease that recognises no borders, no skin, gender or religious differences. The coronavirus, however, does discriminate: it kills more often those who are vulnerable because of their health, economic and social conditions.

We face a moral choice: are we going to abandon our most vulnerable, or will we, all of us together, care for them, protect them and give them a better chance at overcoming this crisis ? We must be aware when we make this choice, that we cannot pick and choose. If we fail to protect some of the ‘vulnerable’, because say, they are foreigners, or they cannot afford healthcare, we are indeed putting the lives of all of us at risk – remember, this virus does not discriminate on identity and does recognise borders.

Different places made different choices. In North Africa, particularly in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, these choices were at times not decisive, many have suffered as a consequence.

Civil society organisations in North Africa have made efforts to translate and communicate vital information to migrants and refugees from West and Central Africa. Authorities have also made an effort to communicate the few measures taken for these communities. However, this information remains dispersed, incomplete and unattainable for many migrants, especially those coming from English speaking countries. This website is our effort to contribute to bridging the information gap for francophone and anglophone migrants and refugees in North Africa.

This website is an effort to track the evolution of COVID-19 in these countries: we look at official decisions by governments, we survey support initiatives for migrants and refugees, and we trace how the press covered topics such as COVID-19, migrants and refugees, and freedom in these three countries.

We dedicate a section of this website to information on how to protect ourselves and others from contracting the COVID-19 disease. We also included information on how to apply for exemptions to the confinement in place in these countries. We endeavour to keep this website updated with the latest information daily.

To remain open to what happens elsewhere, we have news from across the African continent and the rest of the world. We highlight initiatives of hope, courage and perseverance. We do not forget to underline instances of injustice, corruption and fake news.

This is a concise and easily accessible collection of available information. We provide sources for the information we publish and our press reviews and decision timelines all rely on the work of journalists and media professionals in the three countries. We are a link in this communication chain, working to make information more accessible to all those who need it.