“The place where I stayed only hosted adult men, as minors were not allowed due to COVID and the interventions of volunteers in the first reception centers were suspended, also due to COVID” says Franca, an Italian nurse who was urgently called to duty after a pandemic was declared in March.
By that time, she was living and working in Belgium, but had to leave everything behind and move back to her country. Then, in the middle of August, Franca decided to go volunteering in a Sprar centre (protection system for refugees and asylum seekers) close to Trapani, in Sicily. “The hygienic conditions were very poor and three or four guests were sleeping in the same room. To be honest COVID protections were lacking, but last summer masks were no longer mandatory on the street either.” Franca and her fellow volunteers didn’t encounter any health emergencies and a doctor was there just in case. In fact, she says, for the young men in the centre “a ‘disease’ is another thing entirely”.
Yet, more than 30,000 refugees and migrants participated in the first-ever survey by the World Health Organization (WHO) and spoke about the serious impact of the pandemic on their mental and physical health. The study, published on international migrants day, finally shed some light on a portion of the global population whose health has been neglected during the crisis.
So, what happened to people arriving in Europe in the time of COVID-19? First, their number dropped.
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Ventimiglia remains the most common border to cross for migrants in Italy. “Here we always have a high turnover and, after a brief stop, numbers increased again in the summer,” says Jacopo Colomba, project coordinator for WeWorld Onlus. “Notably, 12,000 people were rejected at the border just in the first nine months of 2020. It is also interesting that smugglers were asking for more money to help people cross the border, even 500 euros for 40 km, during the first lockdown.”
The pandemic changed the living conditions, forcing more people to live outside. “We had two cases of COVID in April. This and social alarm were the reasons behind the shutdown of our only e…