AJWS in Action: Updates from Our Partners, April 8

Facing hunger, persecution, unemployment and more, vulnerable communities across the world are suffering greatly through this crisis. The activists and social change organizations AJWS supports are on the frontlines of the pandemic. AJWS will continue to stand by all of our grantees in 19 countries during this global crisis—and we will update you on their life-saving work right here.

AJWS partner organizations Alwar Mewat Institute Of Education And Development (AMIED) and Vikalp—based in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, respectively—are preparing to distribute dry rations of food to the families of migrant workers returning to their homes from cities and other regions of India, and other families in remote villages with no access to government-run food distribution centers. In light of India’s current very stringent national lockdown, this need is critical.

On March 24, India launched the largest coronavirus lockdown on earth, and one of the most severe—currently being enforced on the population of 1.34 billion people. While this effort to halt the spread of the virus is important, the lockdown has had an immense impact on vulnerable populations across the country. It is especially trying for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who migrate from their rural villages to cities to find work, who were left completely stranded—without the income they planned to send home, or a way back to their villages. Many have been forced to walk, often hundreds of miles.

Upon the return of these workers, their families suddenly have at least one extra mouth to feed with no additional income, creating a more drastic food shortage than they faced before the pandemic. The rations distributed by our partners may save lives as India’s lockdown continues, providing immediate aid to communities in dire need. The long-term need for food security in these communities is only being magnified by this crisis and must be addressed in the future.

The issues Vikalp and AMIED are responding to represent just two examples of how the pandemic is magnifying inequalities and injustices that predate this crisis, which render specific communities even more vulnerable.

As fear of the coronavirus sweeps through Uganda, the country’s already-oppressed LGBTQI+ community is being unjustly targeted, persecuted and blamed for the pandemic—and grantees including Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) and Tranz Network Uganda (TNU) are courageously acting to protect the rights and safety of Uganda’s LGBTQI+ community.

On March 29, a shelter for LGBT youth in Mukono, Uganda, was raided by security forces, accompanied by the local mayor. As a result, 23 people were arrested and formally charged with committing ‘a negligent act likely to spread infection of disease,’ according to Uganda’s penal code. Several of those arrested were violently assaulted by the mayor while being hauled to the police station, and all 23 were verbally taunted with hateful anti-LGBT speech during the raid.

While this raid was carried out under the auspices of following government orders to enforce Uganda’sCOVID-19 lockdown, residents of the shelter were all inside during the raid—obeying the quarantine.

AJWS grantee Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) immediately mobilized to offer emergency legal support, as those arrested are set to be tried later this month. HRAPF will also provide critical aid to those in custody: medication and daily food, and accommodation for those released from prison who have nowhere to go. HRAPF joined with leading members of Uganda’s LGBTQI+ community and peer organizations to issue a joint statement offering emergency security support to their communities as these instances of persecution become more common and violent.

Similarly, AJWS ally NGETHA Media has begun documenting human rights violations perpetrated as a result of government measures to contain the spread of the virus.

This hateful abuse of LGBTQI+ people in Uganda is a key example of how the pandemic is magnifying inequalities and injustices, which pre-date this crisis, and which render specific communities even more vulnerable. In Uganda, the LGBTQI+ community’s human rights have long been under attack, and the pandemic is underscoring the community’s vulnerability and the urgent need for advocacy.

El Salvador
Even as AJWS partner organizations are working tirelessly to ensure that vulnerable populations receive the material aid they need to stay safe, these groups—like trans-rights defenders COMCAVIS Trans—are also continuing the work they have always done: protecting the world’s most vulnerable populations against injustice and persecution, especially as the pandemic is sharpening attacks on human rights worldwide.

In light of the pandemic, El Salvador has created “containment centers,” which our partners report are jail-like settings for those showing symptoms of COVID-19. People sent to these centers must be isolated for 30 days, and there is little public oversight of the treatment they receive while in isolation—creating a vacuum in which human rights can be disregarded and abuse can run rampant.

AJWS partner organization Generación de Hombres Trans El Salvador (HT El Salvador), with the help of COMCAVIS Trans and others, are documenting a broad spectrum of abuses specifically against LGBTQI+ people who are sent to these centers. Grantee FESPAD (Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho) is providing free legal support during this developing situation.

Additionally, eight Salvadoran human rights groups, including COMCAVIS Trans, have launched a social media campaign, “Quarantine Without Violence,” in light of violence already erupting in the quarantine centers. They have also opened helplines for people to call if they feel that their rights are being denied.

Dominican Republic
Following a 5 p.m. national curfew put in place on March 27—and a growing debate over adopting a 24-hour forced quarantine—AJWS partners in the Dominican Republic are bracing for COVID-19 to tear through the country. The need for basic health information to reach the public is absolutely essential, as the nation’s healthcare system is already reaching capacity:T here are only 250 ICU beds in the entire country, which is home to over 10 million people. In short, prevention is even more urgent in a country that has little capacity to respond to illness.

AJWS grantee ADESA (Right to Health Alliance) is building a national database of doctors, nurses and researchers to offer their expertise as they prepare proposals on public policy, and they are launching a website to provide critical safety and hygiene information to the public.

On April 7—World Health Day—ADESA reported to news outlets that many of the country’s COVID-19 related deaths were attributed to the severe lack of medical supplies and hospital equipment. ADESA denounced that both public and private hospitals were refusing to admit patients with COVID-19 symptoms. At least one person has died in an ambulance after being refused care at a private clinic.

The immediate future of the country is growing more uncertain. Congressional and presidential elections were scheduled for May 17, but they will likely be postponed. And while President Danilo Medina enacted an economic relief package to benefit millions of the country’s poorest in late March, AJWS partners remain deeply concerned that healthcare, food and basic goods may not be accessible for the communities they serve.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to deepen and magnify Haiti’s longstanding problems: a lack of government transparency, very few public health services and widespread poverty. With a sudden and severe loss of jobs, many Haitian migrants are returning home from the Dominican Republic. Despite official closure of the border, unofficial movement between countries has increased. AJWS partner organizations are working creatively and quickly to increase access to information and emergency aid, and to monitor government accountability.

AJWS has reallocated current grant funding so that partner organizations La Commission Eppiscopale Nationale Justice et Paix (JILAP) and Centre de Formation pour l’entraideet le Developpement Communautaire (CFEDEC) can distribute safety information and hygiene kits to the most vulnerable members of the communities they serve, including farm workers and others within Haiti’s informal economy.

Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatriés et Refugiés (GARR) is rapidly expanding their work in border communities as the flow of returning migrants workers from the Dominican Republic increases. They are enacting community education programs, and they’re monitoring activities along the border to ensure Haitians’ human rights are not abused, even as the border is officially closed.

This information is accurate as of April 8, 2020.