From the first moment, it became clear that the times we live in are a demanding test of the ability of societies to organize and protect themselves. The situation we are going through challenges our response to emergencies as well as our readjustment to daily life.

As soon as we feel threatened, we hear and tell the story of how we are all in the same boat fighting a common enemy. Without warning, this enemy exposes the weaknesses of our systems. This reminds us of how vulnerable we all are and of the importance of solidarity.

Perhaps that is why we start to write narratives about the enforced closeness to our community, friends and family. Looking around wed realize that even our own road is full of challenges. We have reinvented our ways of meeting friends, family and neighbours. We acknowledge the resilience and service of thousands of people who guarantee that each one of us is being taken care of.

In a time of many questions and few answers, these stories of fighting a common enemy have been the encouragement to believe that “everything will be alright”.

It is important to stop and think about whether this will be everyone’s story or a comfortable story lived by only a few, forgetting all those who already were at the margins of our society.

From our own corner of challenging yet comfortable confinement, we now see other stories of accumulated pain, from other worlds, at a distance that is illusory, dangerous and even greater. We have even forgotten about some of them altogether.  Matching the suffering of millions of people to ours.

We substituted the capacity of feeling empathy for those who suffer the most, the longest and in different circumstances, with sympathy for those who suffer as much and at the same time as us.

Aren’t we building stories of solidarity that remain just about ourselves or about what we feel belongs to us?
Are we not harbouring a false feeling of duty done, which absolves us from our other duty, which is to care for the most fragile of the fragile?


Worldwide, news of how the lockdown has aggravated social inequalities is multiplying. Those who were already isolated, suffered from violence, lived on the street, were unemployed, were hungry, lived in an armed conflict or were forgotten by the rest of society, now face this pandemic carrying the accumulated suffering of other crises, social problems or even wars.

Let us look at the humanitarian emergency in Greek refugee camps, using the Camp of Moria, on the island of Lesbos, as an example. In a space initially built for 3000 people, now live more than 20 000 (204 000 people per km2). The population density is 45 times bigger than in the city of London (4500 people per km2). Even before the pandemic, the situation was alarming:

  • There was 1 bathroom for every 167 people and 1 tap for every 1300 people.
  • — The queues were already 2 to 3 hours long.
  • — Families of 5 or 6 people already slept in spaces smaller than 3m2.
  • — Food distribution was already below the daily nutritional needs of residents.
  • — Legal issues, government impositions or lack of responsiveness by the organizations on the field lead to limited access to basic health.

This humanitarian crisis is now taking on greater proportions due to the high risk associated with the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. In Moria, there are about 500 vulnerable cases. 200 of these are elderly people and 300 have chronic illnesses. Many may need special medical care. There are only six intensive care beds. It is impossible to practise the recommended measures.

A solidarity that goes beyond the limits of our confinement. What we feel like ours must be based on a feeling of empathy. This makes us responsible y involving us in what goes on in places like Moria. If our response to this pandemic is limited to giving the necessary support to our neighbours while postponing looking for solutions to situations such as those of the Greek islands, we may be building a solidarity that will prove to be fragile and short-lived.

The day after tomorrow we will know the consequences of this unique story and this solidarity which hangs by a thread. The day after tomorrow we will see the asymmetries and selfishness of the old world even more clearly. Once again, our “us” is incomplete.

As time has shown, this incomplete “us” is the first step towards a “them” on the other side: of whom we are afraid, who are set aside and excluded. Crises that challenge the capabilities of our societies can easily put labels on “them”. In order for us to have this feeling of peace of mind, even if false, we tend to set ourselves apart from those who we do not include in this “us”. It is with these labels that we feel on the right side, doing the right or the necessary thing, ignoring everything that is out of sight or different, allowing suffering to perpetuate on the margins.

The story of how Braga’s refugee community

They have been supporting dozens of people from the region with daily meals. This is a good example of an effort to build this “us” where everyone has a place. Over and above their stories of suffering from war and persecution, and beyond the challenges of restarting their lives in a new country. The group of people have been welcomed by Colégio Luso Internacional de Braga (CLIB). They have set their sights beyond their own limits.

For years, CLIB has welcomed and integrated refugees as a priority. With the arrival of COVID-19, they did not neglect this mission. Instead, they assumed it by looking at the challenges in the world around them. Together, they now support homeless people, people who lived on prostitution, families who lost their jobs, several migrants and many elderly people who are isolated and unable to move.

Solidarity is fundamental

Thus, solidarity in the crisis=caused by this pandemic is a fundamental part of their own integration. Very naturally, while still receiving help, these people give. Rather than putting their own needs above others, driving them further away,. The urgency of the pandemic has brought them closer to everything that is going on around them.

The most important crisis in our lives requires that we don’t forget all the lives that were already on hold. Even before this pandemic! In times of crisis, we all suffer. But the last among the last suffer much more. The crisis we are experiencing requires many more communities like CLIB. Let us not look at places like Moria as a distant problem, but as part of our current challenge. The perspective of solidarity that we are building must include an urgent response to all people in all contexts.

This is the time to think about the need for a whole “us”. To face this crisis with our eyes set on the day after tomorrow is to risk extending our understanding of the concept of Humanity beyond the borders of what is convenient for us.

This demands we experience the discomfort of a deeper look that builds solidarity based on relationship, empathy and responsibility, but whose centre is outside of ourselves.

Do you want to know more about MEERU | Abrir Caminho and the work that they are doing? Visit their website and facebook page!

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy reading "Refugees: Lives behind the UNHCR GYAC."

Author:Isabel Martins da Silva and Pedro Amaro Santos

Co-founders and, respectively, Community Manager and CEO of MEERU | Abrir Caminho. An organization that, through Dialogue and Proximity, builds communities where everyone has a place where they belong.


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