COVID-19’s Impact on Refugees; a Look at the Crisis to Come in Turkey

This fifth edition of Freedom House’s weekly newsletter, Keeping Democracy Healthy in a Pandemic, looks at COVID-19’s impact on refugees; and crisis to come in Turkey.

By Nate Schenkkan, Director for Special Research

Special Features:

This week, our research associate Cathryn Grothe examines the disparate impact of the coronavirus on refugees living in camp settings—in particular, how measures taken by governments hosting large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers are violating their internationally recognized rights. Steps like limiting internet access and restricting free movement are not only rights violations, they may also exacerbate public health risks posed by COVID-19.

In another feature for our website, I abused the privilege of being an editor by writing my own analysis on what the crisis means for Turkey’s political future. The dramatic consolidation of power under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of the last seven years had already left the economy in a shambles and the society starkly polarized. Faced with the coronavirus, the government has turned to familiar tactics of targeting critics and the opposition. But even as the public health situation stabilizes, the enormous economic consequences of the global shutdown for Turkey are just beginning. This will be the most severe test that Erdoğan has ever faced in a career filled with them.

Looking at the United States

This week also saw some welcome progress in the United States on election procedures, with states taking the lead to make it possible to hold free and fair elections while social distancing measures are still in place. In Kentucky, the Democratic governor and Republican secretary of state worked together to allow every voter to vote an absentee ballot in the primary on June 23. Kentucky is a state that requires an excuse to request an absentee ballot, but due to COVID-19, voters can check “medical emergency” as their reason. New Hampshire has also made it possible to vote absentee using the coronavirus crisis as a reason, while Virginia now allows voting absentee with no questions asked—the best option now and for the future—after the governor signed legislation already passed in February.

Politico has a good roundup of where different states stand.

As we have said in our statements and in op-eds, these state-level changes should be backed with federal support. There is no time to lose.

Around the World

Here are more key stories we are watching around the world:

  • Ecuador is grappling with the worst outbreak in Latin America, and one of the worst in the world. The coronavirus struck in the midst of an economic crisis, which also may grow worse due to restrictions on mobility and the collapse of oil prices. It will be an important country to watch politically, as restrictions begin to slow the spread of the virus.
  • In Israel, thousands of protesters engaged in social distancing even as they protested the formation of a new government led by Binyamin Netanyahu. By marking spots on the ground six feet apart, protesters were able to gather and demonstrate while maintaining separation from each other.
  • South Korea is putting special electronic wristbands on people under quarantine, which will allow the government to monitor their temperatures and movements remotely. Such intense surveillance measures raise serious concerns about how to protect the privacy of citizens at a time when there is strong public support for invasive measures.
Israel coronavirus socially distance protest
People keep social distance amid concerns over the country's coronavirus outbreak, during "Black Flag" protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Editorial Credit: Oded Balilty/​AP/​Shutterstock.

Global Democracy

Here are some of the other key issues and perspectives we are watching for coronavirus’s impact on global democracy:

  • After protest movements exploded in 2019 from France to Hong Kong to Lebanon to Chile, the coronavirus crisis has silenced the streets all over the world. But as restrictions diminish, the coming economic crisis and the mismanagement of the virus response in many places may lead to a powerful eruption of protest. This long feature in the New York Times sums up the issues well.
  • The annual report of Prison Reform International (PRI) is urgent reading this year, with the issue of overcrowding in prisons around the world under more scrutiny than ever due to fears of the spread of coronavirus in confinement. There has been some action globally and in the United States to reduce prison populations, but more needs to be done, and fast.

Heroes: Civil Society

Our heroes this week are the members of civil society who are stepping up to feed and support others during the crisis. Whether it is in Nigeria, India, or the United States, we see people taking action to help their communities get through difficult times. Sometimes, what gets called “civil society” is taken to mean just human rights NGOs. In fact, the term means all independent initiatives of civic action that take place without the government. This crisis is showing again why what civil society does is so important in every community.

That does it for this week. Stay safe, and stay free.


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