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Student Corner: Human Rights Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Updates from our Student Corner Blog
April 8, 2020

Migrant Workers in Qatar

Migrant Workers in Qatar
Migrant Workers in Qatar

The students in Barbara Frey’s human rights internship class in spring 2020 are turning their attention to the human rights impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable groups in the world today.  Here are some updates from the first installment of our Student Corner blog:


Migrant workers in a pandemic

By Farrah Minah

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak and in the wake of travel restrictions to contain it, migrant workers are finding themselves caught in the crosshairs.

Travel restrictions have put the jobs of millions of South Asian migrant workers on the line.

Malaysia, Saudia Arabia and Qatar -- all popular destinations for South Asian workers --  have implemented restrictions on travel in an effort to contain the virus. Malaysia has shut its borders, Qatar has banned foreigners from entering and Saudi Arabia has suspended all international flights until the end of March, Reuters reported.

Many families in the region depend on remittances from those jobs to sustain themselves. In Nepal, remittances make up about a quarter of its gross domestic product, Reuters said.

In Qatar, the majority of confirmed cases have been located in the industrial area, where many migrant workers live in close quarters. 

According to Reuters, the Qatar’s Government Communication Office did not comment on the total number of people under lockdown in the industrial zone, the total number of migrant workers who have tested positive or the number under quarantine.

In China, rural migrant workers are also taking a hit. Sweeping travel restrictions in the country and cities on lockdown threaten the income of about 174 million migrant workers employed outside their home provinces, the South China Morning Post reported

Only about a third of rural workers have returned to the cities in the wake of strict lockdowns.

Across the country, rural migrants are wracking up “substantial personal debts that have made them vulnerable to major economic disruptions,” SCMP said.

“Local officials have barred many migrants from crossing city lines. Landlords have kicked them out of their apartments. Some are crammed into hotels or sleeping under bridges or on sidewalks,” the New York Times said.


Can Israelis and Palestinians cooperate in the era of COVID-19?


By Courtney Olson

Pandemic conditions have pushed the need for humanitarian cooperation to the forefront in Israel and Palestine, yet increasing settler violence threatens to dismantle good will.

The United Nations Human Rights Office called for Israel to ensure healthcare to Palestinians during the crisis. “At the heart of the efforts to contain and roll back this pandemic by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas must apply an approach centered on human rights,” noted Michael Lynk, a U.N. expert on the Occupied Territories.

Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention binds Israel, as occupying power over Palestine, to take necessary measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in a non-discriminatory fashion. 

While skepticism abounded as to whether or not Israel would hold up its end of the bargain, some progress has been reported .

On March 28th, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, was recorded on a phone call with representatives from the EU, Russia, the United Nations and the United States commending the cooperation established between Israel and Palestine to combat the spread of COVID-19. 

Both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Prime Minister have taken measures such as closing schools and limiting mass gatherings. Additionally, since the start of the crisis, Israel has allowed critical medical equipment and healthcare professionals to cross critical borders, particularly in Gaza.

The cooperation between these two entities is positive, experts are still wary. Historically, Israel has been known to hold back and supress the Palestinian healthcare system. This means that the Palestinian system is in a precarious situation normally, not to mention during a crisis.

According to the Jerusalem Post, settler and Jewish extremist violence against West Bank Palestinians has spiked by 78% during the last two weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic when compared to the rest of this year, the United Nations has reported. Human rights organization, B’Tselem has launched a blog documenting the day to day experience in this difficult time.


Immigrants: Essential workers without a safety net

Migrant workers harvest lettuce in California.
Migrant workers harvest lettuce in California.

By Jamal Badhaso

At times immigrants in the U.S. are considered an essential part of the nation, while at other times they are considered a risk to the livelihood of native-born Americans. With mass numbers of American citizens now staying at home to decrease the spread of COVID-19, the immigrant community is faced with a double-edged reality. They are now considered an “essential” part of the labor force to provide goods to American citizens while they are given few benefits to enhance their human dignity. 

Immigrants are faced with obstacles to their wellbeing and there is no safety net in place for their welfare. Yet, in the midst of this crisis, they are the ones who have been put on the front lines: providing medical services, farm work, landscaping, construction and beyond.

About half of all farmworkers in the United States, more than one million, are undocumented immigrants. To support the demands of American consumers more and more immigrants are seeking out farm labor. Working in close contact with each other puts these workers at greater risk, yet they lack the financial support to stay at home.  Many immigrants worry more about job and income loss in the coronavirus era than about the health risks, though they are aware and afraid of those risks as well.


Reflections from an Immigration Court Observer

Artistic drawing of immigration court with observers supporting detained individuals appearing in the court.
Illustration taken from The Docket Newsletter

By Alyssa Haldeman

I am currently a third year student at the University of Minnesota, where I am taking Global Studies Internship class which requires me to work with a human rights organization throughout the semester. I was able to get an internship with the Advocates for Human Rights, specifically working with Immigration Court Observation.

What I have observed through this internship has only confirmed my future aspirations to help make the immigration process more accessible than it currently is. While going to court, I realized people in ICE detention rarely receive the necessary tools and knowledge to be able to stay in the United States and receive citizenship. While it is not only a time consuming process, it is also emotionally and mentally consuming to the immigrants stuck in the detention center. It is heartbreaking to see many detainees give up in court because they don’t have the knowledge or legal representation for options on how to stay in the U.S. I feel privileged that I was able to observe court and share my thoughts during each hearing I witnessed and what I have seen will stick with me and motivate me to try to help in any way I can.

For the latest news about court observation in Minnesota, see The Docket, a monthly newsletter put out by The Advocates for Human Rights and the James H. Binger Center for New Americans.