BY Michael Makuei Ghai Makuei
July 1, 2021 — The idea of repatriating refugees amid the global coronavirus disease pandemic is of course a subject to ponder upon. In my own opinion, it is not a good idea to repatriate refugees during this deadly, prevailing global health challenge. There are myriads of challenges that can be faced by the repatriates. These challenges range from economic to psychological challenges. I will in this article focus on such challenges in the light of Covid-19 disease.
First, the health of refugees will be at a grave risk during this persistent global pandemic. Coronavirus disease is an unseen enemy which is contracted through body contact with the virus. Repatriating the refugees amid these hard times will expose them to the deadly virus during the process of repatriation and loss of lives will be a sure result thereof. Moreover, refugees amongst others, who are vulnerable members of the community need special healthcare. They are in need of affordable and accessible health care services. This is not achievable now in the pandemic. Hospitals are already overwhelmed with a number of the virus patients.
Considering the status of health institutions around the world, not even developed countries are in a better condition to contain the situation among coronavirus patients, it is going to be tougher than usual for the returnees to get health services whenever and wherever need arises. Hospitals and clinics are predominated by covid-19 disease and hence health services have relatively become inaccessible to humble members of the society like refugees. I can argue that a change of environment can cause sickness under some adverse conditions. Where will these needy newcomers get medical assistance, considering the current condition of the hospitals? It can be ascertained that repatriates are going to suffer unnecessary illnesses due to ouster during the global pandemic.
Secondly, the livelihoods of deports will be significantly affected. Considering the fact that many of the refugees have gained some sort of stability in life in the host country. They have either established small businesses or secured jobs that earn them a living in the host country i.e., Kenya. Repatriating them in the global pandemic where the world economies are grappling about to find stability, will definitely do mighty economic harm on the repatriates. For returnees, it will be hard establishing the businesses and finding work in the already shrinking economies where unemployment is a real challenge of the time.
Thirdly, with new normalcy pioneered by the noble coronavirus, it will be an immense deal integrating the returnees into the receiving communities. Integration of the refugees into the host communities has four aspects that are important to guard well. Social, political, legal and psychological orientations in the new communities.
Now that coronavirus disease mitigation protocols advise social separation as much as possible, it is hard for the receiving communities to receive and give the repatriates the necessary social orientations. For example, orienting the returnees about their neighborhoods, family circles, and the immediate regions will be a great problem to be faced by returnees. It will take them time to familiarize themselves with the new environments and they would have not gone through such unnecessary suffering had they not been repatriated during Covid-19 pandemic. It will leave a traumatic social problem with the repatriates. If the authorities concerned could foresee this, they can revise their move if possible.
Political orientation is another integration problem that can be faced by the repatriates. Repatriating the refugees to their home countries means taking them to another new political environment that will need acquaintance on their side. Doing this amid the prevailing pandemic is not easy as we may suppose. This entails the country’s political ideologies, ethics and structure. The returnees may be faced with a political policy adjustment that will be unfamiliar and uncomfortable. With coronavirus, it is uncertain that it will be easy to achieve such goals because the Covid-19 mitigation measures do not allow political activities of such nature. This therefore, translates to political darkness to the returnees for an unpredictable period as long as the pandemic lasts.
Returning to one’s country will necessitate acquisition of legal documents. The repatriates will be required to hold the legal papers of the receiving states. They will be required to have a national identification card (ID card), political membership card where possible, and maybe a work and/or business permit. Due to noble coronavirus disease, the offices do not, nowadays, operate at full capacities. This therefore, will delay the processing and issuance of such documents to returnees. So, no work/business permit means no jobs and profit-generating business activities to those individuals. Absence of a national ID card will hamper civil service grants to returnees and the sure impact is somewhat devastative on at least needy repatriates if not all returnees.
Amid repatriation during Covid-19 disease, the refugees will not be safe from psychological traumatism. This embraces the fact that the newcomers need orientation about the governing norms, cultures and values that will be expected for them to absorb and identify themselves with the existing communities. These have a great impact in their lives as they will be part and parcel of their new societies. With coronavirus pandemic, less of this orientation is realizable. They will even be looked upon as the possible carriers of the disease. Last year in South Sudan, for instance when you wear a face mask, the locals will report (or even threaten you to remove it) you to local authorities as a disease carrier. Imagine returnees undergoing such betrayal. This will absolutely leave a psychological scar in their minds. Not forgetting that psychological issues can be as deadly as coronavirus disease. Therefore, in the event that repatriating authorities will be trying their best to secure returnees from Covid-19 disease, they will also be autonomously bringing about another fatal mental virus on the returnees. The newcomers will look to themselves as socially excommunicated from their new communities due to the health conditions in which they have been repatriated, hence mental sickness.
Additionally, education of young people from refugee communities will experience disruption. In Kenya, youths from expatriate societies have adapted the Kenyan system of education. Repatriating them means taking them to another unfamiliar education system. Not forgetting that these systems have been greatly hit by the pandemic. It will be more than tricky for young people to catch up, adapt and appreciate the new system. For example, in Uganda and South Sudan, the education sector for basic education has remained closed for more than a year since the onset of the pandemic. Currently, South Sudan has opened the basic education and skipped a year without covering the syllabus. Now the returnees to such countries will have a lot of challenges embracing the new systems. It will even be challenging for them to get vacancies in the local schools due to limited capacity evoked by the coronavirus pandemic in the fight to stem it. Some refugees will be going to countries with different language of instruction and teaching other than those used in Kenya. Epitome of those states is Congo where the language of instruction is French. With the education sector already ailing in the corona virus contagion, it will be extra challenging to absorb, orient and train them to know the strange language. This will be a hard time for innocent young people who are going to experience undeserved hardship and it may go into long run to affect their bright future.
The repatriation of refugees to already food insecurity ravaged countries is a cold massacre of vulnerable people. Food insecurity is a major challenge being faced by populations in Sub-Sarah African countries where most of the immigrants in Kenya come from. For sampling, South Sudan is a flawless model of the countries in the region presently facing food insecurity. Approximately sixty per cent of South Sudan’s 11 million (est.) population will face food insecurity as from July this year (WFP report, 2021, June). People are now feeding on the leaves of wild trees hunted by women. Last year it was floods and covid-19 pandemic, and now drought has joined the rank of disasters in the same nation. Congo, Uganda, Sudan and Somalia are no better, not even Ethiopia. What else do we need to tell us that the home countries of refugees and asylum seekers are no better than the home of refugees?
In conclusion, health, economy, education, politics, sociality, psychology, legality etc are all important to refugees. They can be a bundle of blessing to them if cared for amicably and can be equally disastrous to them should they be overlooked. Evacuees are a special and fragile society who direly need the peculiar attention from the society. If there are frangible members of the society, then look not far, refugees are the ones! If there have ever been humanitarian vocations, then the call to care for expats is the highest and the most noble of all. I summarize the whole matter by saying that if at all Kenyan authorities have to be humane, then it is in this move of repatriating refugees.
The author, Michael Makuei Ghai Makuei, is a concerned citizen living at Kabarak, Kenya. He can be reached through email at email@example.com,
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