Pandemic Patchwork: Threads from 13 countries

Across Europe, governments are reducing the speed at which the Covid-19 virus spreads in order to save lives, whilst keeping necessary parts of the economy functioning. The pandemic and government responses vary widely and are affecting us all in different ways.


Some of us are gaining new rights to healthcare, and others are being further marginalised. With so much happening, its hard to look up from our national situations. Many stories are not being heard, but now more than ever we need to be learning from each other.

Let’s start with some good news.

Luxembourg, Portugal and Ireland have all taken measures in the last few days that give people seeking sanctuary more equal rights to be treated if they become unwell. Covid-19 spreads quickly in confined spaces, and Spain, (and to a lesser extent the Netherlands, the UK and Belgium) have acted to reduce immigration detention to protect people being incarcerated, and the staff that watch over them.


Living conditions for some people increase their vulnerability to Covid-19. Photo: Northwest France, 2019 (BM/GN).

These changes have not only become politically possible, but politically desirable for European governments who must publish the number of Covid-19 deaths recorded each day. All of us are included without distinction. There is no separate footnote in which to hide numbers of homeless, Roma or undocumented migrants that die… And suddenly more inclusive policies begin to emerge.

Restrictions preventing asylum seekers from working have been reduced in Germany, and to a lesser extent also in France. These changes focus on agricultural labour (ensuring food continues to arrive to supermarkets), and the health sector (ensuring any of us with appropriate medical qualifications can contribute in efforts against the pandemic, regardless of our residence status).

If this policy trend continues, we might say that those people in our societies that have been ‘othered’ in order for some politicians to perform their ‘tough on migrants’, ‘tough on minorities’ policies are now being framed as a little less other. But only a very little less.

The other side of the coin

And of course, some European leaders have seen the pandemic as an opportunity to further marginalise people in their societies.

Bulgaria and Slovakia have seen yet more stigmatisation of Roma communities – confined to their own housing estates, cut off from income and food, following public accusations that members of the community brought the virus from western Europe where they had been working. In Belgium, people of African decent are resisting being scapegoated following a letter to residents from the Mayor of Liège that implied they had spread the virus.


Meta Quilt: Metamorphosis of Skill (Loretta O’Brien, 2019). Read more below***

Anti-democratic measures have been enacted in Hungary (PM to rule by degree with little oversight) and Poland (crash-implementing postal voting, probably to their electoral advantage). In the margins of all of that, last week we saw new anti-LGBTI legislation in Hungary to limit gender recognition to the sex assigned at birth. This week, Polish parliamentarians will vote on further proposals to limit sexuality education and reproductive healthcare.

Policing continues to be a problem

Those more inclusive health and social policies brought in to address the pandemic could to be undone without improvements in how marginalised communities are policed. For example, closing immigration dentition centres will not save lives if police harassment prevents them from finding the food and sanitation they need to protect themselves.

QCEA recently had contact with a young person two hours after he had been freed from an immigration detention centre. He had already been profiled by police at a railway station and had his phone taken away (illegal, but sadly routine). He was thereby cut off from his support networks, including the urgent public health information that we are all supposed to be receiving, and it became more difficult for him to find a safe place to sleep and wash.


Brussels park that has offered food, community and a relatively safe place to sleep since 2015. However, it is subject to frequent police operations and is closed during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Nearby, a volunteer kitchen was giving out food to those in need. Police refused to allow anyone to sit to eat the food, even two metres apart. Enforcing social distancing is a genuine challenge for European police, but surely we must recognise that people who do not have a house cannot abide by ‘Stay Home’ restrictions. We all need a place to rest.

What can we do?

So much risks getting lost at this critical time. QCEA is keeping track of changes in law, policy and practice related to Europe’s pandemic responses, and those changes happening under the cover of the crisis. Anyone is welcome to take part in this data collection exercise.

Quakers believe in equality, seeking to live it and promote it. The pandemic is already affecting people differently, but we must all be vigilant for where responses to the pandemic are further marginalising some of us. Likewise, we must seek the new opportunities that the crisis provides to address Europe’s long-standing inequalities. Stories of solidarity and resistance are like building blocks for a world transformed.

Thank you for reading.

Andrew Lane, QCEA


Watch Jude Kirton-Darling talking about continuing to work for peace and human rights in the coming months.




The Quaker Council for European Affairs brings a vision based on the Quaker commitment to peace, justice and equality to Europe and its institutions. We are a peacebuilding and human rights organisation, and through these two QCEA programmes we also recognise the global climate crisis as one of the primary challenges of our era.

To find out more about our work, including during the Covid-19 pandemic, please visit


***Meta Quilt: Metamorphosis of Skill. This patchwork featured in an exhibition on the theme of Evolution. Patchwork represents the diversity of political and social contexts above, and this piece also represents the change and transformation of the Covid-19 crisis and the period to follow. Loretta O’Brien writes, “I had just decided to learn how to machine quilt which meant I had to go through an evolution of sorts. Having spent 50 years sewing I now had to unlearn and relearn how to sew again. I usually sew by moving the fabric under the sewing machine needle while the machine is face on and I use my foot peddle to control the speed at which I work. This time I had to learn how to move the machine across the fabric while the machine was side on and operate the speed control by hand. The image is a stitched drawing of my sewing machine with pieced isosceles triangles to the left of the stitched drawing.”





#Quakers #Equality #aWorldTransformed #Covid19 #SanctuaryEverywhere #HumanRights #Iamnotavirus #Coronaracism ##RacismAndNegrophobiaInBelgium #urbaninclusion

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