Protect migrant workers and marginalised groups affected due to Covid-19 restrictions, Amnesty International appealsHuman rights advocacy group draws the Nepal government’s attention to incidents of excessive use of force by security personnel tasked with enforcing the lockdown.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
The Nepal government must ensure its measures of sealing borders and the ongoing lockdown enforced to control the spread of coronavirus are consistent with the country’s international human rights obligations, Amnesty International Nepal has said.
As the government has swung into action in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, its measures have gravely impacted thousands of people in the country whereas Nepali migrant workers have remained stranded in foreign labour destinations, and people living in poverty are scrambling to fulfil their basic needs, according to the rights group.
“Any measures undertaken by the government in its fight against Covid-19 must be consistent with human rights, particularly the rights of marginalised groups and others who are particularly at risk in this context,” said Nirajan Thapaliya, director of the Amnesty International Nepal, in a statement on Friday. “Furthermore, the government should put in place measures to protect people whose health and livelihoods are at risk.”
After the Covid-19 outbreak engulfed countries, the Nepal government imposed travel restrictions, banning all international flights, suspended non-essential services, enforced a nationwide lockdown, and sealed its borders with India and China.
Soon, the impact was seen on the daily lives of people, especially wage workers, the poor and financially marginalised groups struggling to make their ends meet. Closure of long-distance public transportation, followed by a lockdown, saw an exodus of people making arduous journeys home from the capital city and other parts of the country.
The lockdown in Nepal has also disproportionately affected several groups, including refugees and people employed in the informal sector, the rights group points out.
It has urged the government to introduce comprehensive relief packages and economic assistance to ensure they have access to basic services, and their right to an adequate standard of living.
“Where needed, the government of Nepal must also request international cooperation and assistance from the international community to ensure that it is able to protect the health and livelihoods of people in an adequate and timely manner,” reads the statement.
Besides general public and vulnerable groups in the country, tens of thousands of Nepali migrant workers in the Persian Gulf countries and Malaysia and also in India are now in dire situations as these countries have also imposed lockdowns and other public health measures spanning several weeks, according to the Amnesty International.
With the slowdown in economic activity and closure of some businesses in the labour destinations, many of these workers have now either lost their jobs, or are on unpaid leave, with inadequate access to basic necessities such as health care, food and accommodation, said the rights group.
Nepali migrant workers, who faced entrenched patterns of abuse and ill-treatment in both Nepal and destination countries even before the global health pandemic, are experiencing greater hardship now.
In Malaysia, Nepali workers are reportedly being forced to work despite a nationwide lockdown in place whereas others are struggling with limited income. In Qatar, migrant workers reportedly live in squalid and overcrowded spaces inside ‘coronavirus prison’ and are being forced to work in crowded construction sites, only increasing the risk of their exposure to the deadly virus.
"In the wake of this pandemic, states have not adequately protected migrant workers, whose contribution to these economies remains grossly forgotten," said Thapaliya. "All workers should have access to sufficient accommodation facilities, including the facility to isolate themselves, as well as water and sanitation, so they can effectively protect themselves, in the countries where they are working.”
They should also have access to social security protections and financial support when they are unable to work because of the Covid-19 epidemic, including if they are sick or quarantined in these countries, said Thapaliya.
Panic is similar at the Nepal-India border where a large number of Nepalis continue to be stranded at several crossings. Nepali workers, returning from India, had to swim across the Mahakali river to enter the country after the Nepali authorities kept them out. A large number of Nepalis are having to work in India in environments rife with the risk of coronavirus infection.
The Amnesty said that Nepali migrants who are stranded at the Nepal-India border are in an extraordinarily difficult situation. It urged the government of India to ensure that all workers, including migrants, have access to social security and targeted economic support during these difficult times, so they are able to enjoy their right to an adequate standard of living.
The rights advocacy group also said that the Nepal government should urgently consider all steps possible to allow Nepali workers waiting at the international border to safely return home and ensure that they have the means to protect themselves from Covid-19 adequately and have equal access to health care once they are in Nepal.
Amnesty International Nepal stated that it was concerned to see multiple incidents of excessive use of force by security personnel tasked with enforcing the lockdown.
"Instances of physical assault and unjustified use of force as reported in the media are deeply worrying,” said Thapaliya. “We call on the authorities to investigate these allegations and penalise those found to be misusing their power."
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.