Paani COVID-19 Response: Populations at Risk

by | Jan 18, 2021 | Journals | 0 comments

— By Amer Ghali, Buraq Oral, and Shabber Syed—
Migrant Workers in the Arab Gulf 

As news of the pandemic’s intensification spread, many of the world’s governments began scrambling to repatriate their citizens in a bid to avoid the complications of having them stranded overseas amid a widespread cancellation of travel services or worse yet, risk having them be exposed to the virus in a foreign land where they may not have access to the necessary medical treatment. The large volume of Pakistani laborers in the Arab Gulf, most notably the United Arab Emirates, found themselves in precisely such a predicament as the small, oil-rich island state dragged its feet in addressing the question of their safe return home: it is estimated that over 20,000 Pakistani expatriates remain trapped within the UAE’s borders as of now [1], with no information as to how they will be able to return. Even ahead of this recent crisis, the UAE has maintained a questionable track record with respect to its treatment of foreign labourers as a whole, including allegations of extortion by the government and its subsidized employment agencies tasked with managing the entry of migrant workers to the country, as well as large-scale withholding of salaries by employers without sufficient basis for doing so [1].

Pakistan also houses one of the world’s largest refugee populations, with 1.4 million registered Afghani refugees and estimates of there being as many as 2.6 million Afghani refugees in total [2]. Fears surrounding the spread of COVID-19 in these areas are heavily substantiated by the fact that these camps experience a severe shortage of food, and with recent citywide partial lockdowns, economic activity within Pakistan has come to a halt. 80 percent of these refugees are thought to be daily wage laborers who depend on their daily earnings to eat, meaning the recent lack of work has left many Afghani refugees wondering where they will get their next meal. With a whole population on the brink of famine, the solution to their crisis is not primarily the awareness or prevention of COVID-19, but rather getting food on the table and trying to survive [3].

Disabled/ Diseased

While the outbreak of COVID-19 has been devastating for many populations across the globe, those with disabilities are some of the most heavily affected. Due to social distancing orders, it is often difficult for them to receive the treatments and help they need from health care aides. This increases the physical hardship they face, which is exacerbated by the financial hardship. Due to suspension of financial services that help the disabled and their families, it is difficult for them to stock up on resources that are crucial during this crisis [4].

This situation is more severe for disabled peoples in Pakistan. While the country does have facilities for disabled people, they are often scarce and unavailable to many due to distance and financial strain. In addition, there is a heavy stigma against those with disabilities in Pakistan, with some considering it a form of punishment, causing families to hide any afflictions [4]. Factoring in social distancing orders and guidelines, this population is increasingly at risk of death due to COVID-19. Many people with disabilities or mental health issues are in prison, leading to increased spread.

Those that are in the prison systems are at higher risk due to compromised immune systems and high spread of diseases, not just COVID-19. Tuberculosis, HIV, and hepatitis are common among prison populations. Due to insufficient healthcare and distancing for these people, COVID-19 has been able to spread easily from prisoner to prisoner [6].


  1. Baycar H. Will COVID-19 Decrease the Number of Indian and Pakistani Expats in the UAE? London School of Economics and Political Science. Published June 4, 2020. Accessed June 18, 2020.
  2.  Afghanistan’s refugees: forty years of dispossession. Amnesty International.,second%20highest%20number%20after%20Syria. Published June 20, 2019. Accessed  June 18, 2020.
  3. Khan N. In locked down Pakistan, Afghan refugees fear starvation more than coronavirus. Arab News PK. Published April 13, 2020. Accessed June 3, 2020.
  4. Devandas C. COVID-19: Who is protecting the people with disabilities? – UN rights expert. OHCHR. Published March 17, 2020. Accessed June 3, 2020.
  5. Country Primers on Disabilities. Nationalities Service Center. Published October 3, 2019. Accessed June 3, 2020.
  6. Imran M. Sick, disabled prisoners need extra care to control COVID-19 in jails. thenews. Published April 7, 2020. Accessed June 3, 2020.