A look back on some of the most striking magazine covers published this past year across the globe, marking the milestones in a bloody conflict that is entering its second year.
In the days and weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the international news media was collective wondering whether this seemingly unthinkable war could actually happen. What Will Vladimir Putin Do? … was the question on everyone’s mind.
Once Feb. 24 came, and the Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, the news media attention has been thoroughly consumed by the largest and most dangerous conflict on the European continent since World War II.
We’ve collected magazine covers from around the world over the past 12 months, from the beginning of the invasion and the emergence of Volodymyr Zelensky as an international icon, to the revelations of Russian war crimes in Bucha, the siege of Mariupol and the Ukrainian sinking of the Moskva war ship, and through the slog of trench warfare and bombings of civilian targets.
Here are 19 of the most striking Ukraine war covers from magazines from France, U.S. Italy, Brazil, India, China and beyond.
From infancy to marriage, from coronation to globetrotting, through until her death, Queen Elizabeth graced the covers of countless magazines. Here's an international collection, from 12 countries around the world, from her baby cover of TIME magazine in 1929 to being bid farewell from Brazil last week.
Queen Elizabeth II’s life encompassed so many aspects, from time-honored royal tradition to behind-the-scenes family drama to public acts of kindness. But the Queen was also a tour deforce of modern celebrity management. Seventy years of royal apparitions and iconic looks from her British throne to consistent globetrotting made her the most famous woman in the world — decade after decade — without it ever going over the top.
Like her 1952 coronation, one of the first public events to be covered live on television, her death on Sept. 8 at 96, and Monday’s funeral, were those rare moments when the world came together to celebrate the life of a single person.
The multiplication factor of mass media in the 20th century, and into the 21st, was seized by Elizabeth and the image shapers of the so-called “Firm” that carefully controlled her public exposure.
With TV interviews rare over the years, it fell to glossy magazine covers and feature stories to continually re-introduce the Queen to the world. It has been quite a show, color-block outfits combined matching dresses, coats and hats, subtle gestures and well-chosen words, with family or going solo, at home and abroad, Elizabeth was the ultimate Queen of magazine covers: Here's a selection, spanning her entire life, from 12 countries around the world.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on April 21, 1926. Her father would rise to the throne in 1937 after the abdication of his brother Edward, instantly making Elizabeth the next heir to the crown. The young Princess made her first steps on the public scene during World War II, talking on the radio to reassure British children after being appointed colonel-in-chief of the Grenadier Guards in 1942.
Elizabeth and Prince Philip started their romance in 1939, and were engaged eight years later, in 1947, which sparked some controversy. To ensure their union, Philip renounced his Greek and Danish royal titles to become Duke of Edinburgh. The couple got married in Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947. On their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997, the Queen said that he had "quite simply been (her) strength and stay all these years."
Elizabeth became Queen after the sudden death of her father King George VI in February 1952. The circumstances delayed her coronation by a year and she was crowned on June 2 1953. Her coronation was the first ever to be televised, with BBC cameramen being allowed inside Westminster Abbey to film the ceremony. Around 27 million people in Britain watched the event and 11 million more were able to hear Her Majesty's speech on the radio.
The only citizen in her country not obliged to hold a passport when traveling due to all British passports being issued in her name, the Queen made the news on every one of her nearly 100 state visits abroad and multiple tours of each of the nations of the Commonwealth.
These visits were the occasion to encounter successive politicians: She famously met 13 out of the 14 last U.S presidents and 15 British Prime Ministers, from Winston Churchill to Liz Truss, whom she appointed two days before she died.
The final rounds of covers came together, with the news of the Queen’s passing on Sep. 8. prompting front pages from newspapers and magazines around the world: "The world weeps", "Farewell to the Queen", "The rock Britain was built on"....
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, no sector in the economy has been hit harder than the travel industry. Following rolling global lockdowns through last spring, and resulting border closures and travel bans, both tourism and business travel was at a virtual standstill, with an estimated 98% drop in the number of international tourists when compared with the previous year, according to the World Tourism Organization.
Still, the summer was seen as a crucial indicator of both short and long-term prospects for the travel industry. Throughout the world, many made sure not to miss their summer holiday, but there are signs that people are traveling differently, with many preferring to wait until the last minute to book their tickets, choosing reimbursable options, or foregoing international travel altogether to avoid any possible closures or quarantines.
While it's unclear whether these travel trends will last longer than the pandemic itself, here are some examples of sectors inside the global travel industry that are witnessing big changes:
Language Learning In France — In France, foreign language study abroad programs have been struggling to adapt to the pandemic, with an estimated loss of 70-80% in turnover since March, according to Le Monde. "At the beginning of March, almost overnight, everything stopped," recalled Gérald Soubeyran, director of Effective Linguistics.
• Many French students tend to travel abroad to English-speaking countries like Britain, Ireland or the United States, to improve their language skills. However, with border closures, quarantines, slowed air traffic and closed language schools, not to mention those struck by the coronavirus itself, business has virtually ground to a halt.
• Director of the organization Route des Langues, Laurent Pasquet notes that "Even when it was possible to leave for certain destinations, there was a strong psychological effect. Faced with so many uncertainties, families did not want to send their children abroad."
• Anglais In France, which connects French students with native English speakers currently living in France, has seen interest grow since the onset of the virus. According to program manager Jennifer Laur, this is because of the program's ability to teach students away from home in a way that is "reassuring" for their parents.
A couple takes advantage of an oportunity to "glamp" in a nature reserve in the UK —Elmley Nature Reserve
Glamping In UK — While the virus has frozen travel to many cities and metropolitan areas that were once sought-out travel destinations, the countryside made a comeback in the UK this summer.
In a country that can never seem to make its mind up on whether or not to quarantine, making travel plans abroad is a gamble for British nationals. Because domestic travel is the best way to avoid a two-week quarantine or being stranded on the wrong side of a border closure, many new and unusual rural opportunities are opening up across the UK:
• The trend has even opened up opportunities for farmers and rural landowners who were anticipating a hard year due to the removal of EU agricultural subsidies and an expected economic downturn to open up their land for camping, glamping and more.
• As Simon Foster, director of tourism, told The Guardian, "People are looking for somewhere safe, secure, secluded, where they can hunker down for a week, rather than staying in a big resort or a big caravan park or hotel."
Monumental Reopenings In India — How can you shut down one of the seven wonders of the world? Well that's what happened when the Taj Mahal was closed indefinitely to the public in mid-March amid the nationwide lockdowns in India to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. The Taj Mahal and neighboring monuments are now set to re-open mid-September, but that doesn't mean tourism in the region will return as normal.
• All visitors will be screened and sanitized before entering monuments, tickets will be online purchase only, visitors will be required to wear masks and the visitor limit will be set at 2,000 people per day, The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) stated.
• According to the Indian daily Hindustan Times, the hospitality industry is also anticipating the return of tourism. Beyond exchanging handshakes for namastes, guests will also have to sign a declaration that they are not infected with the COVID.
• New innovations to the industry include thermal temperature guns, UV sanitizer boxes available for each guest to sanitize their belongings, special floor mats to clean and disinfect shoes, full protective gear for housekeepers and even security gates with ionizers to kill the virus on the hair of guests.
The long lockdown period has only added to the frustrations people feel about their country's unresolved class disparities, crass politics and history of violence.
BOGOTÁ — Every good crisis unveils and exacerbates a society's deep-seated problems, and this crisis in particular — no doubt the biggest in modern times — has our backs to the wall. The limits of power and tolerance are being tested, people are starving or drowning in debt, and calls for unity just won't cut it. We're victims of our own system and we don't know what to do about it.
Months ago we watched in horror the film Joker, and today we're seeing it again, for real, in news reports from the United States. Here in Colombia we wait in a state of tense calm as institutions and the economy crumble. We may be jaded for seeing so many dismal events in our country, but calm can give way to explosion the moment people lose what we cherish most: the status quo.
After the incidents in Minnesota, Americans have risen against the system, a system that cannot, for all its efforts, end the deep-seated, culturally ingrained racism in its institutions. Prejudice is passed down from father to son in the dominant community, including within the ranks of U.S. police forces. It's a fact, even if history white-washes the role racism has played in the country's social evolution.
When things seem like they can't possible get any worse, a social revolution erupts that helps advance communal rights. The anomaly in this case is Donald Trump. He should be the person urging unity and acting as supreme guarantor of equality in the United States. But as usual, he keeps doing the opposite, and has sought to suppress the marches with all the brutality he can muster. As he has done before, he cites "dark forces' at work to negate the reality of his country's problems. It may cost him dear, prove to be a last-straw type of scenario, and ruin his chances of reelection.
All this is awakening the world. We love American trends. Nobody protests or says it like they do. Nobody has social protests as epic as theirs! Add to this the social networks and you have an immediate, albeit confused, world revolution.
In Colombia we try to emulate this revolutionary clamor. And yet for some reason, we never seem to do it the right way. Our problems differ in many ways from those of the United States. First, we do not have systematic oppression of our black communities. We simply oppress the lower classes, whatever their skin color. If this revolution is to be of any use, let it tackle our real problem: classism bred by the longstanding, historical struggle of our political parties.
The war between Liberals and Conservatives may seem like ancient history, but all that's really changed since then are the names of the parties. Hostilities between the Right and Left persist, though there is also a political center now, which conservatives denounce as tepid for not taking sides. They prefer the ruthless factionalism that has fueled class warfare since the 19th century, and is so clearly manifest today in the systematic murders of community leaders.
Peaceful protests in Cali, Colombia, one week after nationwide strikes — Photo: Nano Calvo
Add to that the protests that took place earlier in the year and were cut short by the COVID-19 lockdown, which has only exacerbated frustrations, and what we're looking at is a veritable pressure cooker, one that's bringing us closer, perhaps, to something like the infamous Bogotazoof 1948.Those murderous riots were a tragic landmark in our history and the prelude to the decade of civil war remembered simply as La Violencia (the violence).
Already last year we could see an intensification of protests due to social discontent, and once the quarantine is lifted, the demonstrations are more than likely to continue.
The disconcerting aspect is the similarity between our government and Trump's in managing a crisis. The only clarity in their actions relates to political goals, and they will go after any critic who dares disrupt their plans. This isn't working for the United States, and it won't work here, where the posturing of people like Attorney General Francisco Barbosa — who brazenly sympathizes with the country's most right-wing elements — threatens the system of checks and balances.
The legislature, in the meantime, is devoting its time to trivia (with motions to declare the Antioquian satchel part of our Cultural Heritage) instead of challenging an administration that has clearly overstepped its prerogatives since the state of emergency began. Let us hope Congress returns to form and restores the balance of powers — before society explodes. If not, we may very well see protests like those of the United States or worse, with something reminiscent of the dark days of La Violencia.
There has been plenty of debate and questions surrounding the use of masks since the coronavirus pandemic started. Should we wear them or not? What type of mask works the best? Should countries make them compulsory? But even as a general scientific consensus has emerged that masks are one of the most effective tools at our disposal to prevent the virus from spreading, countries faced another problem: how to obtain, produce and control the millions of masks necessary for their health workers and population.
Many countries had to deal with severe shortages with cargos of masks being sold to the highest bidder. For some, which found themselves unable to produce masks quickly and in large volumes, the manufacturing of these protective products has become an example of the shortfalls of outsourcing, while others took this opportunity to expand their market.
After more than six months since the beginning of the pandemic in China, here's how three countries are currently dealing with the manufacturing of masks:
France - Overproduction: The textile industry finds itself with tons of cloth masks as orders have almost come to a halt, causing real difficulties to some of the 400 companies which invested hastily to respond to the government's call, according to Les Echos.
An ironic situation considering the country was facing a severe shortage at the beginning of the pandemic. According to the French Union of the textile industries, around 40 millions masks are still waiting for buyers at the moment and some companies, which mobilized all their workers for weeks to produce masks, now find themselves with the equivalent for several years of raw material stocks, that will certainly fall in value.
But why can't they find any buyers? Because French citizens and companies tend to buy cheaper single-use paper masks from Asia, Le Parisien reports. The latter cost between 0.55 and 0.60 euros compared to 3 to 5 euros for a French cloth mask. But in the end, the latter is more cost-efficient and environmentally sound, as it is reusable. The government is currently working to find a way to promote the Made in France masks, as well as to quickly find an outlet to distribute the surplus.
A worker demonstrates non-woven filter fabric used to make face masks in a factory in Zhongli, Taiwan —Photo: Lin Yen Ting
Turkey - Exporter: As soon as the virus started to spread worldwide at the beginning of 2020, Turkey was sought out to produce masks on a grand scale. According to data from the World Trade Organization, Turkey is one the world's largest textile exporting countries and had therefore sufficient raw material stocks to meet the high demand.
China ordered 200 million masks from Turkish medical firms in January, according to the Anadolu Agency and later on, several EU countries requested the protective products as well, a textile firm even receiving a one-billion mask order.
A Turkish protective gear factory, which was founded in less a month during the pandemic, claims to be the world's largest mask production facility that doesn't use imported material. The company is currently repurposing three ships to use them as floating masks factories that could each produced around 500 million face masks during their sea voyages to sell to countries in North and South America,Hürriyet reports.
Finland - Self-Sufficiency: At the end of May, the government announced that three Finnish companies had started to produce protective materials such as masks and respirators, following an initiative launched by the Ministry of Employment and Economy to start domestic production, Yle reports.
Inside a medical mask production workshop in Tangshan, Hebei Province, China —Photo: Yang Shiyao
At the beginning of the pandemic, Finland faced major shortages of protective equipment and had to fight with other countries on the international market, as prices were soaring. For Minister of Labour Tuula Haatainen, the pandemic "has exposed the vulnerability of international supply chains and highlighted the importance of domestic production."
The government hopes that domestic manufacturing will cover the needs of health and social workers, who, according to its estimates, require around one million masks everyday, News Now Finland reports. Though masks are not compulsory for Finnish citizens, the country's authorities say they want to be prepared for a possible second wave of the virus in autumn.
Taiwan - Setting Standards: Since the crisis began in neighboring China, rival island nation Taiwan has been at the cutting-edge on controlling the spread of COVID-19 — and an innovative policy for distributing and tracking the use of masks gets some of the credit. It included a name-based rationing system for face masks in the beginning, and once production was accelerated, made masks widely available in convenience stores and through an app.
And now, the country continues to reap the benefits, having virtually halted the spread of the virus. Taiwan News reports that the government has further eased restrictions, including allowing passengers on trains and airplanes to take off their masks once they've passed temperature controls. Still, China Times reports an estimated 90% of passengers on mass transit were still wearing masks.
Building scientific beliefs is a long and arduous path that originates from a contradictory process. But facing a pandemic, it's the best we've got.
PARIS — The coronavirus crisis and its accompanying armies of white gowns has put science back at the center of the economic and political scene, as in the days of the Manhattan Project and the Space Race. Yet the feeling many of us are left with is ambiguous, since the health crisis has actually shown the staggering uncertainty and limits of human knowledge.
Scientific experts have expressed diverging views and frequently changed their points of view. The terrifying predictions concerning the number of infections and deaths calculated by mathematical models did not materialize. Major publications have published contradictory experimental results, with some later withdrawn. Some wonder if science risks coming out of this crisis discredited in the eyes of the public.
And yet, the absence of consensus among the experts is actually a sign that the scientific debate is healthy. Knowledge is the result of an ongoing debate on the interpretation of facts, which are themselves established with varying degrees of precision. Different researchers act as advocates of diverging ideas. The debate might be heated and it takes time for dust to settle.
In experimental sciences, the evidence is often statistical: there is always a portion of uncertainty concerning the impact of an effect or its universality. In social sciences, the interpretation of observations is left even more open, as multiple events are often occurring at the same time. For instance, the beginning of the lockdown may have coincided in each country with a rise in fear among the population, which makes it difficult to isolate the direct effect of the quarantine on the transmission of the virus.
*Augutin Landier is a professor at HEC School of Management and David Thesmas teaches at MIT.
Forced to stay home from one day to the next, millions of quarantined people were suddenly faced with a rare luxury in our fast-paced world: time. That, of course, came with a question: What to do with it?
Where others may have chosen to Netflix, garden, read, meditate or complete a 51,300 pieces-jigsaw puzzle, the French seemed to have had a rather French response: Ecrivons ! A survey quoted by daily Le Monde shows that during lockdown, 1 in 10 French had seized the nearest quill, electronic or otherwise, and started jotting down their thoughts. The Robert Laffont publishing house says that within a two-month quarantine span it had received an impressive 1,500 manuscripts — three times more than usual.
The Paris daily notes that the country's publishers remain cautious as to the quality of such a quantity of work. At the same time, the book industry has itself been hit hard by the crisis, with some prominent authors struggling to get their words out, among flat sales rates and cancelled book tours.
So where does that leave the first-time scribes? Much ink, no doubt, is being spilled in the "pandemic-inspired fiction" department. French writers may be hard-pressed to top Albert Camus' 1947 The Plague, the absurdist masterpiece depicting a cholera-like disease sweeping the Algerian city of Oran. But Le Monde reports that these burgeoning new authors are also churning out romance novels, cooking books and poetry, bien sûr.
Across the Atlantic, a similar hodgepodge of creative endeavors is at play, with Arlington Public Library director Diane Kresh introducing the library's Quaranzine: a weekly online publication gathering collages, essays, drawings, comics, etc., from hundreds of local contributors. In Kresh's words, "When the going gets tough, the tough get arty."
And then two weeks ago, the world's storyline seemed to abruptly shift again. With the May 25 killing of George Floyd, questions of racial injustice and police brutality consumed our minds, and time, eclipsing all those pandemic anxieties and bread recipes. Alienation, race and violence driving the Black Lives Matter movement. But if French writers follow that plot, they will be competing with another Camus classic: The Stranger.
If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it's that no one is safe until everyone is safe.
BUENOS AIRES — Faced with perhaps the greatest global crisis of our generation, the question on all of ours minds is: How long will this last, and how much will it affect us in terms of deaths and the economy? For now, most people prefer caution to claims that "poverty kills more people than the virus."
It may be true. It's also worth pointing out that poverty has structural causes unrelated to the quarantine. We are perpetually angered by poverty, and yet, culturally, we accept the idea that wealth really doesn't come from work. It seems to come, rather, from illicit activities, corruption in office or through some magic "niche" in the market, and when that wealth is obscenely flaunted, we don't really condemn it.
If we believe living frugally is a better life, then let us renounce abundance and embrace limitations. We cannot permit an élite of officials — not to mention some of the two-bit revolutionaries we see here — to entrench themselves in the shadow of power.
In choosing alternatives, we must ask how to overcome the immediate challenge and think about what kind of world we shall be living in once the storm is past. For most survivors, it will be a different world.
The pandemic is a social leveler and proof of citizenship.
To extinguish this epidemic the reproduction rate (R0) must be low, and the only way to attain that is through physical distancing of the general population and isolation of the infected. Relaxing these measures could benefit the economy, but at the cost of many premature deaths.
The economic impact is bound to be harsh. Many emergency measures will become permanent elements and change life after the pandemic. But we also need to pay attention to what the virus has revealed: The half-collapsed public health services, paralyzed economies, and the deaths of the most vulnerable among us all speak of the world we have built.
The pandemic is a social leveler and proof of citizenship in the divided and unequal country that is Argentina. It is demanding of us unprecedented unity, if we are to face down its challenge. We are not suffering a haphazard event or tremendous bit of bad luck. It's the result, rather, of our way of life. The crisis came to tell us what a spoiled society refused until now to hear. We have discredited the institutions and resources that sustained our societies: trust in authority, credibility for public life, being able to count on a decent job, etc.
In Argentina, the armed forces feed the people abandoned by coronavirus. — Photo: Paula Acunzo/Zuma
The criticism of conservatives or sectors of the middle class is that universal medical attention necessarily means worse quality and government rationing, and in a free economy, people should be able to choose. But these arguments fall apart when thousands are rushing to hospitals that must then ration their ventilators and free beds, and when doctors have to decide who can access those and who must make do with palliative care.
With such heart-rending calculations, even countries with universal healthcare have had to make assignations of their limited resources. The state of public health care has become a matter of life and death, even for the privileged. When people lacking access to medical services, regular wages or proper accommodation fall ill and cannot confine themselves, the virus spreads faster to everyone. Those stuck in overcrowded housing cannot practice social distancing, and contagion happens through the people society has neglected.
The pandemic has updated the complex debate on the relations between economic cycles and public health care.
We have long tolerated a discriminating health care system, with fairly poor results for the many and good attention to those at the top.
For the fortunate few, the ugly, unfair part of the system was always someone else's problem. But now, Argentines of all classes are competing for the same, limited health care resources. Your premium health insurance is now unlikely to give you quicker access to the heaving emergency ward. Hospitals are being forced to postpone cancer and heart treatments. The richest can always find alternative solutions and celebrities access tests most easily, but nobody is safe from this virus until everyone is.
The pandemic has updated the complex debate on the relations between economic cycles and public health care. Economic elements may well influence health, but beyond a certain level, wealth will not better your health or life chances.
For some years now, the trend has been to prefer personal choice over the public interest. It is a consensual idea that must now be annihilated, amid a pandemic that has shown how some people's precarious conditions will threaten everyone.
The pandemic has also shown, fortunately, that social solidarity will stop a virus that thrives on socio-biological weaknesses, like selfishness. Britain's late prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, liked to say there is no such thing as society, just individuals. Is that true? Or could she become another Cassandra, the soothsayer whom Apollo punished by making her utterances incredible.
For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus pandemic from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus global brief in your inbox, sign up here.
By now, our regular readers know that Worldcrunch works hard at being of and for and about no one particular place or people or subject matter. Our beat and our audience are written in our name, and we work with journalists and newspapers everywhere to tell the stories (no matter how big or small) that resonate around the world.
Still, as far-flung as we might be, we do have a home, a pretty special one: in Paris, France. As the American-born editor of our atypical and purposefully global news animal, I sometimes find myself guarding against giving too much weight to either the U.S. or France in our daily coverage, trying to be sure readers have a decidedly international view of the world.
Still, it's inevitable that French events (and attitudes) will wind up seeping into our coverage a bit more than those elsewhere. And so it was back on March 17, when this country was put on what would become among the tightest national lockdowns to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.
We had of course been covering the pandemic since soon after it began to spread in China, and on to South Korea and finally to our neighbor across the Alps, in Italy. But when it brought to a halt our own life as we'd known it, something fundamentally changed for us — and thus for our readers too. As our core team dialed in that first Monday, we realized something colleagues in Wuhan, Seoul and Milan had understood earlier: this "story" was now everything.
The nature of this global health pandemic and its shutdown of much of daily life — combined with the inevitable worldwide economic crash to come — is unlike anything I have covered in 25 years in the news business. And for the past two-plus months, our work (beginning with this daily newsletter) has been reshaped into what is effectively a coronavirus news operation — though, like the pandemic itself, as global as ever.
Still, and thankfully, life goes on, and news (good and bad) is happening that is unrelated to COVID-19. China is again cracking down on Hong Kong protesters, U.S. police have killed another unarmed African-American man. Soccer matches are starting back up, even if the stadiums are empty.
And so it is, coincidence or otherwise, one day after French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that this country's lockdown was over, that we too are ready to turn the page — starting with returning this Newsletter back to its original name, Worldcrunch Today.
Coverage no doubt will still largely be focused on the related health and economic crises, but for now, this is just what we call the world. That's, at least, how it looks to us here in Paris.
Life was difficult enough for refugees even before the coronavirus outbreak. But with the lockdown depriving them of even meager earnings, the situation has beyond dire.
CAIRO — Hanan Adam arrived in Egypt as a refugee from Sudan five years ago. The 39-year-old lives with her seven children in 6th of October City and used to find work as a day laborer in various factories producing refrigerators and light bulbs before they started laying off Sudanese workers. She then took to cleaning houses, but says that now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, she can't work anywhere.
"We haven't worked since April, and we no longer have an allowance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)," Adam says.
She carries a yellow refugee registration card issued by the UNCHR, which had offered her a small amount of aid money. But that ended in December, Adam explains.
"They told us to redo the interview, but we've had no allowance since," she says. "Our situation is very bad and there's no work because of the coronavirus. Even the food rations we get between the 15th and 21st of every month… I went to pick it up, but there's no food this month."
Adam's son suffers from an illness that affects brain function and she was depending on medication provided by Caritas Egypt every month, but the NGO's hospital is now closed because of the coronavirus. She cannot afford the monthly LE280 ($17.60) expense to treat him, even though the medication is just a temporary painkiller. The son needs surgery, which she was hoping to save up for because Caritas could not afford it. But with her loss of income, those plans have also fallen through.
To further complicate matters, Adam has until the end of Ramadan to find a new home. Over the past month, the Psycho-Social Services and Training Institute in Cairo helped her pay rent, but they recently told her they do not have the budget to pay next month's rent, and the landlord wants the place back.
Adam tried contacting the UNHCR several times to seek help, but no one responded. She went to the refugee agency's office on the first day of Ramadan but the receptionist told her the office was not operating and that she should return the third week of Ramadan to submit a complaint.
Refugees who primarily depend on support from international organizations — most notably the UNHCR — are among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. And in Egypt, most refugees have seen their substandard health and economic conditions turn into a crisis with the outbreak of the coronavirus.
By the end of 2018, there were 246,749 refugees registered with the UNHCR in Egypt, and 68,184 asylum seekers. They mostly come from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. According to a memorandum of understanding between the Egyptian government and UNHCR signed in 1954, the UN agency handles the registering, documenting and status of refugees in Egypt. According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which Egypt signed, the UNHCR serves as the convention's guardian and cooperates with states to ensure that the rights of refugees are respected and protected.
Refugees who primarily depend on support from international organizations are among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2014, the UNHCR website listed its various partners in Egypt, including the ministries of Interior, Health, Education, Foreign Affairs and Social Solidarity, as well as local and international NGOs. UNHCR also partners with related UN agencies.
Omar Abdel Wahed, a 32-year-old Eritrean asylum seeker, experienced the worst effects of substandard care when his wife died in March just a few months after giving birth.
"My wife gave birth on Nov. 28, 2019 at Imbaba General Hospital," Wahed says. "A day after we returned home, she had complications. When she wasn't feeling well, I called the UNHCR. They told me that they'd call me back, but they didn't. We spent three months going to emergency rooms every time she was sick. They'd either give her a painkiller or say there's nothing wrong with her and make us leave."
"We went to Caritas, they gave us LE70 ($4.40) and told us to go to Qasr al-Ainy Hospital," he adds. "The first time we went to Qasr al-Ainy, we stayed the entire day but they made us leave at the end of it. We went again when she was sick at the end of February. They did a clean-up operation because the incision during childbirth was stitched without proper cleaning. But on her third day at the hospital she was sicker, and they hooked her up to oxygen. The ventilator wasn't working, so I called the UNHCR. They told me that there isn't anything they can do. My wife died the same day."
Before his wife's death, all Abdel Wahed received to help pay for medical care was LE1,500 ($94.50) for childbirth expenses at the end of February, which he received from Caritas, in addition to the meager LE70 he received when his wife fell ill. Meanwhile, UNHCR called one week after his wife died only to ask for burial documents in order to remove her from its registration rolls.
Abdel Wahed has two other children in addition to the newborn. He has been unable to find part-time work at a cafe since he broke his hand in December and cannot afford the surgery to properly heal. He was forced to sell his late wife's jewelry to pay for his share of the rent for an apartment in Bulaq Dakrur. When he called the UNHCR on April 8 to explain his dire situation, they told him to "go work." His Sudanese and Eritrean neighbors are his only source of aid right now.
Nowhere to turn
Amal*, a 40-year-old Eritrean who came to Egypt in 2019, lost her home after the fiber factory where she worked was closed on Feb. 21. She and her son were evicted from their apartment in Fasial a few days later because she was late on rent.
"An Egyptian woman affiliated with a charity organization offered me a storeroom under a staircase in Giza to stay in. But the storeroom is very small, and we can't sit in it. And we keep cleaning it because the entire building's sewage falls there," Amal says. "When I tried to sterilize it, my son and I almost suffocated. He got very sick because the place is small and there's no ventilation. He has nasopharyngeal cancer, so I took him to the hospital when he got sick."
Amal carries a UNHCR white card, which means that she is yet to be registered as an asylum seeker. Yet her card expired in April and she says that the UNHCR offices have been closed, so she has been unable to renew it. Eight of Amal's nine children are in Sudan, where she lived in a refugee camp before coming to Egypt. Her plan with smugglers was to cross into Egypt with one son and then smuggle the others over. But a month after arriving, her son was diagnosed with cancer. She spent all her savings on treatment and has been unable to reunite her family.
Amal showed her son's medical reports to Caritas. They interviewed her, but she did not receive any aid from them. When she tried to register for a UNHCR allowance they told her: "We'll see if you deserve it."
After she was evicted from her home, she called UNHCR again only to be told her complaint had been moved up the aid department. She is unable to get a food coupon from Caritas because she still isn't officially registered. She now depends on charity to treat her son and provide for their basic needs.
The crisis is real. Refugees must qualify under certain conditions in order to receive aid from various organizations, but the situation now is becoming increasingly grave.
The president of the Eritrean Refugee Committee in Egypt, Abdel Rahman Ali, says that UNHCR is not responding to the crisis. He says he tries to give information on families in need to the Red Crescent and is always in contact with UNHCR but has yet to receive a response. "People are hungry at home, they're living under the threat of eviction. Some take monthly medications," Ali says. "Organizations are closed, and they don't even pick up the hotlines."
Marco Ding, a refugee from South Sudan who is now a priest at the Ain Shams Anglican Church, also points to the gravity of the situation. He says refugees have no work, are unable to afford sanitation or hygiene products, and have been hard-pressed to find food since the lockdown measures began. Many Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees work cleaning homes or retail stores, both of which have suspended work.
"They're employees and they just stayed home," Ding says, adding that many refugees are going hungry and living under the threat of eviction.
Ineligible for aid
Rasha Maaty, the executive director of the Fard Foundation, an Egyptian civil society organization, says refugees — especially Syrian and Sudanese people — are day laborers working mostly at restaurants and factories. With restaurants shut and factories operating with reduced shifts, many refugees find themselves with no work. Other refugees work as teachers at special, communal schools, which have closed and suspended teachers' salaries.
Those that did have an income — even if it was sporadic — were not listed in UNHCR's aid programs. That income is now gone, and yet they're still unable to apply for aid from UNHCR because the offices are largely closed to them amid the pandemic. The combined result is a loss of income for many refugee families, Maaty says, along with the threat of eviction.
Refugees face different challenges depending on their status within UNHCR: whether they are registered, still seeking asylum, or have had their refugee claims rejected and are considered undocumented immigrants, according to Ibrahim Awad, the director of the American University in Cairo's Center for Migration and Refugee Studies.
With restaurants shut and factories operating with reduced shifts, many refugees find themselves with no work.
Undocumented immigrants often face the most difficult scenario because their cases are closed and they cannot receive aid from UNHCR. They are compelled to work in the informal economy in poor conditions and often live in poverty in densely populated areas. Even though many Egyptian citizens face the same conditions, undocumented immigrants often lose their jobs first. Since they have no official papers they cannot obtain even the bare minimum of health care because they fear going to hospitals.
They also are ineligible for government aid — of any kind. Undocumented immigrants can't receive even the laughable cash handouts provided to informal Egyptian laborers, Awad says.
During a pandemic, even refugees and asylum seekers find themselves compelled to work in the informal sector, Awad says. Even though registered refugees have the legal right to work, they still need to obtain a permit — a difficult prospect in a climate in which many have lost their jobs. It is difficult for them to afford masks, protective equipment or medicine, Awad says. The one positive measure, he says, was the decision to open hospitals to refugees who have contracted the virus.
"There's hunger at home and coronavirus on the streets," Gabriel Ring says, describing his current situation during the pandemic. A 50-year-old asylum seeker from South Sudan, Ring works part-time as an English teacher at a school for Sudanese refugees in Ain Shams, where he lives. He also works as a translator at a private institute. He has been unable to find work since February and now he, his wife and their seven children have no income whatsoever.
"We are lucky if we find one meal per day," Ring says. "Now, I also have a rent problem. I didn't pay the rent for April and if the landlord hadn't been cooperative, I would be on the streets. But I don't know how I'll pay the water and electricity bills that are piling up."
Ring and his family have been living in Egypt since October 2016. The family does not receive any financial or medical aid from the UNHCR or its partners even though he registered with the World Food Program to obtain a food aid coupon. He also applied to Caritas for medical aid for his daughter, who suffers from a calcium deficiency, for himself, to get knee surgery, and for his wife, to get a hemorrhoidectomy.
Ring says the only aid he receives is from Catholic Relief Services, which pays for half of his children's school tuition, and he once received aid to pay rent for a month last year from the Psycho-Social Services and Training Institute in Cairo. "Two weeks ago, I called the UNHCR for aid — just enough for food for the kids. They said they would get back to me," he says. "Later, one of their lawyers called and asked about my situation, but he didn't get back to me. An Egyptian doctor who learned of my situation was the one who helped me. He sent me a pack of rations through the Anglican Church in Ain Shams."
"We left penniless'
Souad*, a 30-year-old asylum-seeker from Syria, has been living in Sheikh Zayed for three years with her husband and two children. In mid-March, Souad and her husband lost their sources of income through the part-time work they had. The school for Syrian refugees where Souad works closed in the middle of the academic term. Meanwhile, her husband works as an electrician on a day-to-day basis and has not had any work for the past month.
"My and my son's passports expired last July and renewing them costs $700," Souad says. "My husband's residence permit is expired and he doesn't have LE150 ($9.45) to renew it."
"We've been greatly impacted," she says. "We haven't paid the electricity bill for three months. We're LE3,000 ($190) in debt. We don't receive any aid from UNHCR. My husband's work barely covers the rent and bills, but it doesn't cover food, drink and clothes. If you come to see our house, you won't find any furniture. We also have a son with special needs."
She says they filed reports to UNHCR and Save the Children several times, especially because her husband has an eye injury from the war, but they have not received any compensation. They only received aid for the winter from UNHCR last year. They also receive educational aid, which only covers two-thirds of her children's transportation expenses. It does not cover tuition fees for the private schools they are attending after they had to leave public schools because the dialect was too difficult for them.
"UNHCR is unfair and the situation is quite difficult," shesays. "Newer refugees are in a tough situation, the older ones have it better. Folks who left Syria long ago, before the war, took off with their money. We left penniless. I don't know on what basis of evaluation the UNHCR works. Personal connections also run the show. We don't know anyone, so we don't get aid."
In February 2019, well before the pandemic, UNHCR said that its essential support programs for refugees in Egypt were under severe pressure, due to a combination of increasing arrivals and inadequate resources. "These refugees require timely and adequate humanitarian assistance," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. "Yet, right now we are unable to provide them with the bare essentials or maintain our core refugee protection programs in this country."
The report said that UNHCR is operating with only 4% of its annual $104.2 million budget for its operations in the country.
Maaty, the executive director of the Fard Foundation, says UNHCR's situation in Egypt mirrors a loss of financial resources for all UN agencies worldwide. Reducing shifts and decreasing the number of employees during the pandemic while refugees are increasingly desperate for help has severely slowed the agency's response.
Yet some workarounds have succeeded, Maaty says, pointing out that several refugees with whom she works have received their monthly financial aid from UNHCR through the post office instead of having to pick it up directly. She also says that the World Food Program has disbursed two months' worth of food aid in the form of cash instead of coupons so that beneficiaries can purchase food from anywhere, not just from specifically designated stores as before.
"Perhaps the current crisis reflects the necessity of restructuring the international community."
Awad, the director of the American University in Cairo's Center for Migration and Refugee Studies, also points to the lack of resources as the fundamental problem. He says that UNHCR operates with a low budget that does not cover all its employees and that the funding it receives is far less than its needs. Therefore, they have a crisis when it comes to meeting refugee needs for health, housing and treatment. He says there is currently immense pressure and insufficient resources. According to Awad, state contributions to the UNHCR are voluntary: Even the 1951 agreement on refugees is a voluntary one.
"It's not that the UNHCR has the money and is hiding it," Awad says. "The problem is structural and there could be problems in execution. It's a complicated issue that requires a complicated solution. Perhaps the current crisis reflects the necessity of restructuring the international community."
Ali, the president of the Eritrean Refugee Committee in Egypt, continues to contact the UNHCR to no avail, even though he says the agency gave extraordinary allowances to refugees from other countries. He says UNHCR has information on all refugees, yet the World Food Program asked them to register through a special online link to obtain food. So far, no one in the Eritrean refugee community has received any food packs.
Ding, the South Sudanese priest, is more cynical. "The UNHCR is here in Egypt just in name. Refugees are supposed to be its responsibility. It did not get involved when Gabriel Tut was murdered, or in any similar incident," Ding says.
"The UNHCR doesn't know anything about people who have problems with their residency permits or people who were deported from Egypt," he adds. "The UN itself supports the war in South Sudan. We don't want the UN in South Sudan or here. We're here because Egypt is our country, not because of the UN, which didn't do anything for us or for the Syrian, Palestinian and Libyan refugees."
Leaders of refugee communities are trying to help in the face of this crisis. Ali manages a charity organization called Rowad al-Rahman (Champions of the Merciful). He tries to offer general support to the Eritrean refugee community, sometimes in coordination with Egyptian charity organizations. He says the problem is that some of these organizations have stopped helping refugees, and that the food packs he tries to distribute are not enough.
The Fard Foundation, which Maaty runs, also helps those in need right now, including Egyptians and refugees. Through tithes, offerings and church donations, Reverend Ding distributes packs of food, medication and disinfectants among the Sudanese and South Sudanese refugee communities. He also tries to raise awareness among refugees about the virus and how to protect against it, especially among those who do not speak Arabic.
Refugee communities have also tried to form emergency committees amid the crisis. According to Ding, there are 10 refugee communities from South Sudan divided based on the state they come from. In each one, community leaders try to help as much as possible.
Rebecca Alwell, a 45-year-old South Sudanese refugee, heads the emergency committee for the South Sudanese community from Aweil. "With the coronavirus crisis, the community is thinking of the immense hardships refugees are facing because of present circumstances," she says. "We divide up the stuff we have. If someone has something extra, they give it to those in need. We coordinate with Reverend Marco Ding to buy things we lack and distribute them to those in need. The problem is that food packs don't last a day."
Alwell tries to help refugees living under the threat of eviction through her committee, whether by negotiating with landlords or collecting donations to cover rent. The problem, though, is that Alwell herself is suffering with her seven children because she is out of work as a house cleaner. Even though she registered with the World Food Program, she did not receive food aid for April until the beginning of May, and the medical and financial aid she received from Caritas stopped three years ago.
Awad says that governments take care of their citizens, while non-citizens miss out on benefits. He says for humanitarian purposes, the Egyptian government should pay informal refugee workers an allowance of LE500 ($31.50), as it does with citizens. In general, Awad thinks countries should offer opportunities for education, training and work to immigrants and refugees. In terms of public health, caring for everyone's health is important because disease does not differentiate between people.
Awad notes that in the face of immense pressure on the public health sector, some European countries have allowed refugees with medical and nursing skills to work in their hospitals. He also suggested a possible solution could involve a joint approach by the government, Egyptian civil society and concerned Egyptian and international organizations to meet the basic needs of refugees without discrimination through aid from donor countries. Awad notes that such a move would be good for Egypt's image in terms of foreign policy.
Mada Masr contacted the UNHCR's media office in Egypt for an interview. The only response we received was from an associate external relations officer, who said, "We have received your inquiry about the status of refugees during the coronavirus crisis. We will respond at the nearest opportunity given the present circumstances."
*Names have been changed as per the request of the interviewee.
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Skeptical. Overwhelmed. Disappointed. Exhausted. Helpless. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, healthcare workers have felt it all. But in recent weeks, doctors and nurses around the world have added one adjective to their list of feelings: angry.
In Europe, the mood has indeed shifted from the images of people applauding their medical heroes every night, from the balconies of Paris, London or Madrid. Even before some began turning the regular clapping sessions into purekitsch, health workers on the frontline were wondering if it all rang a bit hollow.
In France for instance, a country once famous for its second-to-none public health system, that initial grumpiness has quickly turned into bonafide ire, with demands for better pay for health staff and reform of the country's hospitals escalating into tense confrontations with authorities. French President Emmanuel Macron — whose father was a neurology professor and mother, a physician — experienced it first-hand, as he got into a fiery exchange with self-confessed "desperate" nurses at Paris' Pitié-Salpêtrière. Macron conceded a rare mea culpa, admitting his government had "made a mistake in the strategy" of reforming the national hospital system, asLe Monde reported. Still, his renewed promises for in-depth reform have been met with skepticism by frontline health professionals. Partly to blame, perhaps, is the announcement in March that staff battling the pandemic would receive a bonus of up to 1,500 euros, which some saw as a band-aid measure when massive investment in the health system is required. "That's nice, we'll take it," as one of the Pitié-Salpêtrière nurses told Monsieur le président. "But what we need is salary revaluation."
Similar scenes of frustration took place next door, in Belgium — the country with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate — when the staff of Brussels' Saint-Pierre Hospital turned their backs on Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès during an official visit. Most of the silent outrage over the Belgian government's handling of the pandemic was directed at a controversial decree, in early May, that allowed unqualified staff to undertake nursing duties. Here too, new promises were made, with Wilmes saying she did not want to see a post-coronavirus world where the health sector was "reduced to what it was before," Belgian broadcaster RTBF reports.
Other scenes of rising anger were registered in Mexico, where hundreds of health workers deplored the country's lack of adequate protective material; in India, where critics note that Mumbai shortages of hospital beds weighed on medical staff after years of chronic underinvestment in healthcare; and in Egypt, where deaths among healthcare professionals is the most brutal sign of what one called a "complete collapse" of the medical system.
Back on European balconies, some have deplored how the clapping for medical workers grows dimmer every evening. So many doctors and nurses had stopped listening long ago.