We demand, now more than ever before, that people such as refugee, migrants and the homeless, who are not considered part of civil society but are our fellow beings, have equal and full access to healthcare for all.
Like the contagious diseases that were spreading in Medieval Europe decimating towns and even countries, the Covid-19 pandemic has been levelling distinctions raised by wealth, class and privilege, hitting princes, heads of states and workers alike. The virus does not respect age, gender, race, religion, geography. But it is those who were already excluded from our societies (health-care, citizenship, etc.), that are the most vulnerable ones.
Precisely like the economic crisis that erupted in 2010, COVID-19 ridicules the notion that borders can solve the problem of contagion and proves dangerous the delusion that walls and fences can provide security. In the same way, The unhindered circulation of capital that, ironically like the virus, is not obstructed by borders and cultural differences of all kinds has now come to a standstill.
The COVID-19 crisis is therefore translated into a global economic crisis; unprecedented because it is the first time that not only demand but also production have stalled. At the same time, neoliberal governance has eroded or downright destroyed the welfare state, and lack of public services has also revealed the incompetence of public functionaries. Public goods such as health care, education, social security etc. have now become obsolete ideals, which due to public funding cuts do not have the capacity to deal with this mega-problem. This systemic dysfunction calls for an urgent return to governance that guarantees the preservation of the lives, the common good and the liberties of all people.
Fundamentally, however, this pandemic exposes the essential arbitrariness of the opposition between the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, the ‘national’ and ‘foreign’, ‘us’ and ‘others’. History can be sarcastic, playing games that show that fear of others can be transformed into fear of ourselves. All of ‘us’ are potentially infected and a danger to ourselves and others. The indiscriminate virus simply ridicules the Greek state propaganda that at the beginning of the epidemic pointed to the refugees/migrants as a ‘sanitary bomb’, or Trump’s (and the US people’s) immunity to the ‘Chinese virus’.
All of ‘us’? It depends on what we mean by ‘us’. This all-inclusive category even in times of global emergency is not as catholic as it appears.
The refugees/migrants in Southern Europe: The Greek case
‘The unified world’ of globalization has established the free circulation of goods, but not of human beings. Thousands of migrants/refugees remain trapped on the Greek islands, behind barbed-wire fence, in overfilled ‘closed migrant camps’ under inhumane conditions; so are those in Turkey at the borders with Greece, instrumentalised by Erdogan as part of his geostrategic gaming (i.e. varying the number of refugees to cross to Greece with a view to increasing pressure on the EU to side with him in Syria).
While the state has imposed home confinement throughout the country in order to control the pandemic, the refugees/migrants stacked in camps under terrible living conditions and non-existent personal hygiene make sanitary rules and protection measures a mockery. The stacked people might as well prove a self-fulfilling prophecy, that is, they may become a ‘sanitary bomb’.
We are witnessing the microcosmic application of Boris Johnson’s Social Darwinism of the survival of the fittest or, even worse, a cruel biopolitics. If the centers are not immediately emptied and the spread begins, people could not be moved, while hospitalization within the camps is simply a tragic joke. Not only will the large majority of refugees/migrants contract the virus but the disease will spread on the local communities, given the few and insufficient hospitals and health structures on the islands.
What DiEM25 proposes is the immediate evacuation of the camps, a solution also put forward by Doctors Without Borders that demands and advises for immediate evacuations of the camps. The Greek government could use the 700-million-euro aid to the country by the EU, a ‘donation’ in exchange for the full transformation of Greece into the EU prison for the refugees/migrants, so as to offer them accommodation in empty apartments, tourist infrastructure, rooms to let and hotels while distributing them throughout the country.
The homeless, prisoners, elderly in nursing homes, vagrants, and the Roma
Because of the neoliberal logic of profit as the only value and the commodification of human life, socio-economic exclusion jettisons the unemployed, the homeless, the poor and the sick from a state which is re-organised on the basis of the deprivation of the right to employment and the extinction of social welfare. These people, precisely like the refugees/migrants, are superfluous because they can function neither as labour force nor as consumers. Within the nation state the notion of citizenship is emptied of content because it is not exercised by all the so-called citizens. So, the nation state retains and reinforces the invisible and therefore insidious borders that social and political ‘normality’ have erected within the social body.
The pandemic ravages those excluded from ‘normality’, the invisible ones, who are more likely to be exposed to the virus due to non-existent or deplorable sanitary conditions, a lack of access to healthcare structures, and forced confinement. Conditions are considered deplorable in asphyxiated prisons, Roma camps, nursing homes or shelters and the streets — these populations are therefore at the mercy of all kinds of affliction.
We demand that, now more than ever before, these people, who are not considered part of the civil society but are our fellow beings, have equal and full access to healthcare for all. We call for the homeless and vagrants to be housed in empty houses and hotels, putting at the same time in the political agenda the imperative need for the creation of social housing for the dispossessed. We also demand the prisons’ immediate decongestion and the release of prisoners who are serving sentences for less serious criminal offences. Their forced confinement is ironically replicated by the curfew imposed on ‘free’ citizens so it is high time we reflect on deprivation of freedom as a common bond that would sensitize all of us to the notion of a common humanness.
DiEM25 will continue to point the way to the only road to security with prosperity: Radical Internationalism and constructive disobedience. Our transnational getting together based on a common understanding that all epidemics (economic, financial) and all mass movements of human beings struggling to live are transnational in nature and, thus demand transnational solutions. Only global citizenship is a viable response to a global pandemics.
Sissy Velissariou is a Professor of English Literature and Culture at the University of Athens, Greece, and a member of DiEM25’s Coordinating Collective.
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