COVID-19 SPECIAL: Algeria, Kashmir

A family walks wearing facemasks in Srinagar, Kashmir A family walks wearing facemasks in Srinagar, Kashmir © AFP Photo

 In Focus by Silvia Luminati

1. Algeria

Since 1975, Algeria has been hosting Sahrawi refugees;  currently the country  hosts more than  170, 000 Saharawis  in refugee camps. As of 8 May, local authorities have confirmed nine COVID-19 cases in the province of Tindouf, where the refugee camps are located. Oxfam, which conducts life-saving activities and provides sanitation and water services in the camps, expressed concern about the consequences of the spread of the virus among Sahrawi people as the local authorities are not sufficiently prepared to tackle the virus. Moreover, the refugee population is chronically vulnerable and the 33 healthcare facilities in the camps, which lack ventilators, are not equipped to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, the UN humanitarian agencies, NGOs and local partners have launched a joint appeal for the international community to respond to the immediate consequences of COVID-19 on the health and humanitarian needs  in the Sahrawi refugee camps.

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2. Kashmir

Both Indian and Pakistani troops are engaged in cross-border fighting along the so-called “Line of Control” (LoC), an informal borderline in the disputed Kashmir region. Despite the United Nations Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire, tensions are continuing amid the pandemic and in April, the Kashimiri villages of Panzgam, Taimuna, Chowkibal were shelled. Despite the residents’ protests, families are prevented from leaving their villages due to the COVID-19 lockdown measures, forcing them to seek refuge in community bunkers where “social distancing” is impossible. President Masood Khan of Azad, Jammu and Kashmir warns of an immediate health crisis as the number of confirmed cases (as of 4 May, Kashmir reported 701 cases) could be underestimated due to the movement restrictions.

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