Illustration by Hannah Robinson

The lively debate concerning refugees and asylum seekers over the past two months seems to have given way in wake of the new coronavirus.    

The coronavirus (Covid-19) is spreading all over the world, pushing many countries to adopt restrictions on passengers arriving from the main infected areas. Among optimists and pessimists, experts try to reassure the most terrified in order to avoid what has been defined as a global pandemic.

The rise of fear has seen a depletion of face masks and disinfectant products. The apocalyptic scenario of the red areas, closed to imports of goods and the arrival of people due to the high rate of infection, seems almost surreal: streets are deserted, supermarket shelves are almost empty in some places. The coronavirus alarm has led to the closure of schools and universities. Class trips and meetings have been suspended and public transport has been cancelled.

After the escalation in China, Italy too has to now deal with the situation; with a new Decree announced on 9 March by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, it has indeed become a “protected area”. But the problem cannot be circumscribed: just to cite a few examples, even in France, Spain and Germany the number of cases are snowballing.

Although an effective vaccine has not yet been discovered, the majority of the people affected have contracted the virus only in a mild form. Despite the confirmed deaths, the cases of recovery appear indeed to be increasing. The situation must be taken seriously with all the necessary cautions, but without being overwhelmed by irrational panic.

In addition to the ghost towns, the cruise ships which have been blocked due to the Covid-19 epidemic have also aroused interest in public opinion. Yet, this is not the same treatment that is given to the boats of immigrants rejected daily on the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. The Syrian question is a striking example. For more than a decade this question has been at the centre of both of heated debates and general indifference.

The deprivation of some civil rights, which many have experienced today with the virus crisis, although it starts from reasons and consequences quite different from those managed so far, could lead to a substantial re-evaluation of the political choices and the erection of real and imaginary walls that have characterised this century.

Today, Europe must discuss the rights that it has taken for granted up until now. With new measures taken, the restrictions in terms of assembly and travel offer a whole new panorama. The worst hit nations are demanding a European and international call to deal with a situation that knows no geographical boundaries.

And yet, if emotional and territorial proximity results in hope that anyone affected by the epidemic will be able to return to their family, healthy and far from danger and if precautions are taken to save their lives, from this point solidarity and international cooperation should begin.

The interconnection and globality of this century should lead to co-planning and co-programming, not only in the shadow of the Covid-19, but in accordance with all the humanitarian and ecological crises which are afflicting this world, because whether they are near or distant issues, they always have consequences for all of us. Without a need for false rhetoric, this tragedy can be a good starting point for a universal awareness effort.