News & Views Monday 13th April to Sunday 19th April 2020


Eastern Europeans Flown in to UK to Pick Fruit And Veg

Farm workers are being flown to the UK on charter flights to pick fruit and vegetable crops. Air Charter Service has told the BBC that the first flight will land on Thursday in Stansted carrying 150 Romanian farm workers. The firm told the BBC that the plane is the first of up to six set to operate between mid-April and the end of June. Government department Defra said it was encouraging people across the UK "to help bring the harvest in".

British farmers recently warned that crops could be left to rot in the field because of a shortage of seasonal workers from Eastern Europe. Travel restrictions due to the coronavirus lockdown have meant most workers have stayed at home. Several UK growers have launched a recruitment drive, calling for local workers to join the harvest to prevent millions of tonnes of fruit and vegetables going to waste. However concerns remain that they won't be able to fulfil the demand on farms. One of the UK's biggest fresh food producers, G's Fresh, based in Cambridgeshire, confirmed it chartered two out of the six flights carrying Eastern European farm workers from Romania.

Read more: BBC News,

While 'Low-Skilled' Migrants Are Saving us, the Government is Cracking Down on Them

Millions of key workers in the UK are migrants – approximately 23% of all hospital staff, including 29% of doctors and 18% of nurses, 20% of agricultural workers, more than 40% of food production workers and 18% of care workers, rising to 59% in London. These are the human beings who, for decades, politicians have blamed for holding down wages, ruining “British culture” and overburdening public services. This crisis has revealed how arbitrary the phrase “low skilled” is: how we value people, their rights, what they’re paid and the conditions they work in is all wrong. For all its warm words about key workers, the government should be reminded of this.

The day Dominic Raab encouraged us all to clap for the workers who are risking their lives to keep society going, the government restated that some of those same people won’t be allowed in the country come January 2021. While Priti Patel is conspicuously absent – notably on immigration issues – the department she oversees decided now was the time to reiterate that as part of its new immigration rules, “low-skilled” people would not be able to apply for a UK work visa. If the government forges ahead with its plans, recognising them as key workers will be just a momentary suspension of the norm. Many of them were dismissed as low skilled before the crisis, and it seems they will be once again when it’s over.

Read more: Maya Goodfellow, Guardian,


Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, resigned in November 2019 amidst nationwide protests that erupted after the opposition claimed that the results of the previous month’s presidential election—in which Morales had sought a controversial fourth term in office—were marred by fraud. The Organization of American States (OAS) in December published its final audit of the vote, which affirmed the presence of “a series of intentional operations aimed at altering the will expressed at the polls.”

Following the departure of Morales and many other top officials, Senator Jeanine Áñez, the highest-ranking political figure who had not yet resigned, declared herself interim president; the Constitutional Court quickly affirmed the move, despite the lack of a quorum in the legislature needed for her formal appointment. Her government has since ramped up repressive measures against her critics, including in the form of a worrying presidential decree that granted carte blanche for impunity to security forces acting to reestablish internal order in the face of continued protests in support of Morales. Looking toward elections set for early May, it remains to be seen whether more stable representative politics will be restored in Bolivia in 2020.

Haiti spent much of 2019 bogged down by a political stalemate that blocked ordinary government functions and prevented authorities from tackling critical problems, old and new. The stalemate was the result of an impasse between President Jovenel Moïse and the parliament concerning the replacement of former prime minister Jean-Henry Céant, who was voted out of office in a no-confidence vote in March 2019. This resulted in the indefinite postponement of local and legislative elections—a hindrance to any political movement. The failure to hold elections in 2019 led to the expiration of most of the Haitian legislature in January of this year, and Moïse has been ruling by decree since.

In the meantime, the country has been paralyzed by fuel shortages and widespread protests, during which demonstrators demanded Moïse’s resignation over the alleged misuse of $3.8 billion in aid from Venezuela, and an end to the nation’s endemic corruption. Schools, hospitals, and businesses were closed from September until December, during which time the security crisis worsened as violent police responses to protests left at least 35 dead, and violence by armed gangs increased. As of April 2020, Moïse has continued his one-man rule in a political vacuum, and crisis conditions persist across much of the country.


A significant and abrupt hike in gasoline prices, initiated against existing public discontent over Iran’s worsening economy, sparked mass protests across the country in November 2019. Security forces responded with a brutal crackdown, opening fire on unarmed protesters and ultimately causing the death of at least 304 individuals, with some sources reporting the death toll to be as high as 1,500. Credible reports of torture and enforced disappearance emerged from some of the thousands detained by security forces for their involvement in the protests. In another attempt to quash the protests, the government implemented a near-total internet shutdown, upending daily life for citizens, stifling the media’s ability to report on the lethal government reprisal, and setting a worrying precedent for future repression.

Millions of Desperate Zimbabweans Plunging Deeper Into Hunger

With Zimbabwe’s already severe climate- and recession-induced hunger crisis deepening and COVID-19 taking hold, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) urgently needs US$130 million to sustain through August an emergency operation to prevent millions of the country’s most vulnerable people plunging deeper into hunger. A recent nationwide assessment – the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) – shows that the number of acutely food insecure Zimbabweans has risen to 4.3 million, from 3.8 million at the end of last year. “

With most Zimbabweans already struggling to put food on the table, the COVID pandemic risks even wider and deeper desperation,” said Eddie Rowe, WFP’s Country Director. “We must all do our utmost to prevent this tragedy turning into a catastrophe.” WFP assistance in recent months has helped ease hunger in six of nine districts classified late last year as suffering “emergency” food insecurity (IPC 4), allowing them to be downgraded to the less severe “crisis” level (IPC 3). However, 56 of the country’s 60 districts are now categorised as experiencing “crisis” hunger. WFP supports communities afflicted by “crisis” and “emergency” food insecurity.

Relief Web

Corona Fears as UK Asylum Seekers Made to Share Cramped Rooms

Asylum seekers are being made to share cramped rooms and even beds with strangers in breach of strict measures to contain coronavirus, charities have warned. Overcrowding in government accommodation has led to new people being brought into shared rooms in hostels since the UK-wide lockdown began last month, according to Refugee Action, Asylum Matters and the Scottish Refugee Council. The charities said that although the Home Office had stopped evictions from its asylum accommodation for three months because of Covid-19, there was insufficient capacity to safely house the growth in the asylum seeker population. They added that the crisis would increase because up to 50,000 more people need to be accommodated due to the decision to allow people whose asylum claim or appeal has been rejected, as well as those granted refugee status, to stay put.

An asylum seeker in a south London hostel said that since the lockdown two strangers had shared the only double bed in his room for a week. He said there had been four people in the room – a video seen by the Guardian shows three beds a few inches apart – but two of them left last week and a new person moved in. The man, who has latent tuberculosis, said another occupant of the hostel had been taken to hospital with coronavirus symptoms.

Read more: David Batty, Guardian,

Why We Should Be Worried about India's Response to Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic emerged as national authorities are enacting discriminatory measures against India’s Muslim minority. Now, Muslims are being blamed for the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in India against a backdrop of intensifying discrimination against the country’s Muslim minority. Since winning elections in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have pursued a stridently Hindu nationalist agenda that has damaged India’s democracy. The country’s response to the virus, and the government’s actions while international attention remains focused on the pandemic, should be carefully scrutinized to ensure that emergency restrictions do not cause further harm.

An outgrowth of a Hindu nationalist militant group, the BJP has not only tolerated prejudice against Muslims; it is now cementing this discrimination into government policies. Following the BJP’s victory in spring 2019 general elections, the central government escalated its attacks against India’s Muslim population, and with that accelerated the country’s democratic decline. In August, the semiautonomous status of the only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, was unilaterally revoked by the Indian government, and the state placed under lockdown. Shortly thereafter, the state of Assam unveiled a citizens’ register that rendered almost two million people stateless, many of them Muslims. In December, the government enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act. The law accelerates the citizenship process for members of six religions, but excludes Muslims, leading to fears that, if coupled with a national citizens’ register, longtime Muslim residents of the country will be deported en masse.

Read more: Amy Slipowitz, Freedom House,

Corona Lockdowns Shut off Healthcare to Millions of Women

Llockdowns have triggered the closure of more than 5,600 sexual and reproductive healthcare clinics in 64 countries, according to data from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). The closures are making it difficult for millions of women to access contraception, abortions, HIV testing, or support for gender-based violence. Within the federation’s network, South Asia has seen the largest number of closures overall, with more than 1,872 clinics and other service facilities affected. Africa has seen the largest number of mobile clinics closed, with 447 shut.

Countries particularly affected by the closures include Pakistan, El Salvador, Zambia, Sudan, Colombia, Malaysia, Uganda, Ghana, Germany, Zimbabwe, and Sri Lanka, IPPF said. Some clinics and centres still operating have also reported a shortage of contraceptives and HIV-related medicine.  “These figures show that millions of women and girls across the world now face an even greater challenge in trying to take care of their own health and bodies,” said Alvaro Bermejo, IPPF’s director general.



National elections held in February 2019 were marred by serious irregularities, widespread intimidation, and political violence. Moreover, a one-week delay in polling announced just five hours before polls were set to open weakened voter confidence and contributed to the lowest voter turnout ever recorded in a Nigerian electoral contest. Incumbent candidate Muhammadu Buhari won a second term, a result that international observers deemed credible despite the flawed voting process. Following on the heels of landmark elections in 2015, which featured the first opposition victory at the national level and a peaceful rotation of power, the 2019 polls had carried hopes for a continued consolidation of democratic gains and reliable electoral processes, which ultimately went unrealized.


Sustained protests that began in December 2018 led to the military overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, marking the end of a 30-year reign that featured multiple wars and allegations of genocide in Darfur. Dissatisfaction with the military junta that replaced al-Bashir led the protests to continue despite brutal crackdowns by the armed forces, including the killing of 127 protesters in Khartoum in June. Demonstrations finally ended when protest leaders secured a power-sharing deal with the ruling military council in August, setting up a transitional government that has raised hope for justice and free elections in 2022. It remains to be seen whether the military will abide by its power-sharing agreement, but Sudan entered 2020 with a gradually opening civic space, and real improvements that may set the stage for political transformation.


The opposition in Turkey saw landmark victories during March 2019 municipal elections, winning the mayoralties of the country’s two largest cities, Istanbul and Ankara. The victory in Istanbul held despite a revote ordered by the Supreme Electoral Council, the highest electoral authority and one effectively controlled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Though these gains signified a limit to the near-total authority of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP, the government continued intensifying restrictions on basic human rights throughout the year, and into 2020. Many opposition politicians and civil society activists were arrested or remain in prison, including hundreds detained for speaking out against the state’s latest military offensive into northern Syria.