Current events

Refugees and migrants, one of the groups worst affected by the social gap created by COVID-19


Photo: Mitchel Lensink / Unsplash

Virgnia Snchez Romn
The UOC advocates the fact that protecting and empowering migrants and refugees benefits not only the host society but that of their home country as well

In recent months, for many people, the safety of home and the comfort of belonging to a family or neighbourhood network have alleviated the stress and anxiety that the pandemic lockdown and subsequent easing of quarantine restrictions may have caused. But what happens when you do not have family close by or are unable to contact your nearest and dearest because you are in hiding? Or when your home that lies thousands of miles away has been destroyed? What is life like when you are waiting for a document that confirms your right to live in a country, afraid to go out, of being arrested and deported?

According to Advocacy and Education for Global Citizenship Officer for the Catalan Committee for Refugees, Catalonia with UNHCR, Mrius Gmez, "COVID-19 has affected the whole of the world population and those in vulnerable situations in particular. In many cases, asylum seekers (from all over the world) have suffered or are suffering human rights violations and the pandemic has acted to aggravate that situation."

The current economic situation has dealt a killer blow to many households, with more than 562,900 people affected by temporary lay-offs and half a million people made redundant since the outbreak of the pandemic, the suspension of non-essential professional activity and job insecurity are creating instability for a large proportion of society. This context has seen people coming together in solidarity, but, as Gmez explained, has also led to an increase in racism within our communities: "The growing phenomenon of xenophobic, racist and Islamophobic stances seen in Spain's political and social discourse over recent decades serve to generate intolerance towards refugees and the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to further exacerbate that situation."

According to estimates by the Spanish Refugee Aid Commission (CEAR), there are around 800,000 migrants in an irregular administrative situation currently living in Spain and around 100,000 asylum seekers waiting for their applications to be decided. The first group will, at best, have to wait a minimum of three years to be able to demonstrate social integration through residency while, in the meantime, being deprived of any civil, political, economic, social or cultural rights. In the case of asylum applications, CEAR estimates that 95% will be denied, forcing people to live in situations of irregularity and instability.


Racism against the migrant population

According to the latest report published by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Spanish state reported 658 cases of racism and xenophobia-motivated hate crimes in 2018. Now, however, in a time of pandemic, more than 70 racist incidents have already been reported in addition to social media posts pointing to a spate of incidents involving the criminalization of young migrants in towns such as Premi de Mar, Matar and Barcelona. In addition, members of the groups of temporary workers toiling in the fields of Andalusia and Lleida, who have ensured our supply of fresh fruit and vegetables during lockdown, have highlighted a lack of access to proper housing.

Vulnerable groups are also coming under fire in other places around the world as a result of the pandemic, with incidents such as attacks carried out on settlements and refugee camps in Nigeria because of rumours that they were centres of infection for COVID-19. In Latin America, the pressure of guaranteeing minimum supplies has meant that some refugees and internally displaced people have been left with no choice but to take to the streets to earn a living and support their families which, as Mrius Gmez pointed out: "Has not only exposed them to the risk of infection, but also to discrimination for not complying with the lockdown's rules."

The UOC advocates the fact that protecting and empowering migrants and refugees benefits not only the host society but that of their home country as well. The provision of quality higher education for all, in addition to being one of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, is one of the actions implemented by the University to combat racism and improve the lives of this group of people.


The UOC joins the UNHCR in defending the human rights of refugees

One of the UOC's objectives is to form a global citizenship committed to its surrounding social reality. In the words of Vice President for Globalization and Cooperation, Pastora Martnez Samper, "In order to work towards achieving the challenges set by the 2030 Agenda, placing the focus on those groups that are the most vulnerable, it is essential to forge alliances with different actors." This goal is shared by the Catalan Committee of the UNHCR, which, as explained by Mrius Gmez, works to make society understand "the systemic complexity in which phenomena such as forced displacement and statelessness occur" and provide the necessary tools for " social transformation processes through citizenship."

To that end, the UOC and the Catalan Committee of the UNHCR have joined forces on an upcoming collaboration to raise awareness among the university community about the migrant and refugee reality.

One of the ways of driving social transformation is to provide people with education and training on skills that help them understand a global and changing world. "As a university, we must promote the development of global citizenship and the acquisition of skills in the fields of education for peace, human rights, social justice and the creation of diverse and inclusive societies," stressed Martnez Samper.

If you are able to spare five minutes we would like to ask you to complete the following UNHCR survey to help give us an insight into awareness within the UOC community regarding refuge and the 2030 Agenda and enable us to improve and design actions for the refugee population.


Latest edition of the Refugee Welcome Programme

Aware of the need to respond to the lack of opportunities available to refugees in relation to university, the UOC has opened a new call for applications for the latest edition of its Refugee Welcome Programme.

The UOC has awarded a total of 131 scholarships to refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons since the launch of this programme in 2017, working alongside entities such as Accem, the Spanish Refugee Aid Commission (CEAR), the Spanish Red Cross and the Care Service for Immigrants, Emigrants and Refugees (SAIER) to ensure its success.


Would you like to find out more?

The UOC's Library and Learning Resources has produced a dossier for anyone interested in finding out more about issues related to migration and refuge, which can be accessed here.