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Volunteers sew masks for the poor for protection against Covid-19 in the Syrian city of Aleppo Volunteers sew masks for the poor for protection against Covid-19 in the Syrian city of Aleppo  (AFP or licensors)

Covid-19: A global ceasefire to protect the vulnerable

As Pope Francis and the UN Secretary General call for a global ceasefire, humanitarian organisations highlight the threat posed by the Coronavirus to migrants, and civilians living in conflict zones.

By Lydia O’Kane

This week the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres issued an ardent appeal for a global ceasefire in order combat the unseen enemy of the Coronavirus.

“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war”, he said.

 “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.  It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.” 

Taking questions from reporters, the Secretary General also said his Special Envoys would work with warring parties to ensure the ceasefire plea leads to action.

His call was echoed by that of Pope Francis during his Angelus on Sunday. “May our joint fight against the pandemic bring everyone to recognize the great need to reinforce brotherly and sisterly bonds as members of one human family”, he said.

The threat in Syria

As hostilities continue, the UN has voiced its deep concern about the potential impact of COVID-19 on millions across Syria, in particular, the many people who are currently displaced in the northwestern region of the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has registered five cases of COVID-19 in Syria, but no deaths have as yet been reported.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted there are presently "over 6 million internally displaced people throughout the country, and only half of public hospitals and public primary healthcare centres were fully functional at the end of 2019.”

The UN also said that the security situation in Libya was a real threat, and that a major outbreak there would “overwhelm the already stretched humanitarian aid capacity.”

Monsignor Robert Vitillo is Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and speaking to Vatican Radio, he said a ceasefire was urgently needed.

“I know the UN has been calling for a ceasefire in these areas of great conflict and war. I hope that rational thinking will take over on all sides of that, so that we can have a ceasefire and we can address this new war; this new public health emergency against Covid-19.”

Mons Vitillo noted that in these situations of war, “many times the regular hospitals and the regular medical services cannot function.”

He also said his organisation had been working to make sure that people in Syria, especially new born children and pregnant women, have access to medical services. “These are the problems we need to look at”, he stressed.

Listen to the interview

Risks to Migrants from Coronavirus

Apart from situations of conflict, humanitarian organisations have been voicing grave concerns over the risks posed to migrants from the Covid-19 virus.

This week the head of the European Parliament's civil liberties committee, Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, called for migrant camps in Greece to be evacuated to prevent the risk of possible infections from the virus.

At present, camps that are designed to hold around 6,000 people, are in reality housing 42 thousand, which means that social distancing is almost impossible to adhere to. Migrants also don’t always have access to good factual information on preventative measures to take in order to stop the virus from spreading.

López Aguilar said that "many of those in the camps are already in a precarious health situation and, despite the measures taken by the Greek authorities, the overcrowding and the dire living conditions make it difficult to contain COVID-19.”

One person returning from Egypt to the island of Lesbos has already been diagnosed with the virus and Greece on Friday reported 966 cases of Covid-19 and 28 deaths.

Mons Vitillo said that his organization is working to ensure that migrants have access to information about the Coronavirus, and is providing information to those who have mobile phones.

He also noted that the situation for Greece is particularly difficult. “We have the situation right now where you have in the camps for refugees in Greece on the islands really terrible living conditions and now measures seem to be taken to close them in, and so all the more as the virus begins to spread to those communities it will be a terrible tragedy there unless we can make sure that we are able to get appropriate medical services for them.”

29 March 2020, 14:47