Prisoners making coronavirus supplies and updates from the border

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Daily Dispatch

March 12, 2020


Inmates of Hong Kong’s Lo Wu prison have been asked to produce 2.5m face masks a month. Photograph: Alex Hofford/EPA

We discussed on Monday how people who are incarcerated, in prisons and in immigration detention centers (which are basically prisons), are particularly vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases. In spite of this, the Department of Homeland Security has done little to offer guidance about protective measures in detention facilities during the current concern about the spread of COVID-19. The Federal Bureau of Prisons, and state and local department of justices have issued guidelines and new intake procedures, but none of these precautions can make up for the dehumanizing reality of incarceration in this country. Indeed, in many prisons soap can be difficult to find and hand-sanitizer is often banned because of its alcohol content.  

And yet, as the Guardian reports today, people imprisoned in New York state have now been tasked with producing hand sanitizer, while prisoners in China try to meet the exploding demand for surgical/face masks. In China,

[w]omen inmates at the Lo Wu prison in Hong Kong have reportedly been asked to work night shifts to make 2.5m face masks a month after a huge rise in demand according to Reuters.

Female prisoners in Lo Wu prison are paid around HK$800 (£80) a month for round-the-clock production, significantly under Hong Kong’s minimum wage.

“This is an exploitation and another form of modern slavery,” said Shiu Ka-chun, a lawmaker who has been campaigning for prisoners’ rights.

Here in the United States, the Governor of New York has turned to prisoners to fill in the gap in production for hand sanitizer, as people clear shelves in grocery stores.

On Monday the governor of New York announced the state will also be using prison labour to produce 100,000 gallons of hand sanitiser for schools, prisons, transportation systems and other government agencies.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in a press conference on Monday that the production of the hand sanitiser was in response to shortages due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Around the globe, prisons have been the focus of concern. In China, an outbreak of coronavirus infected up to 500 prisoners and staff even as new cases were declining in the general population two weeks ago. In Italy, protective measures, especially limiting family visits, led to riots in which at least 7 people have died. Italy’s prison system is notoriously overcrowded. The potential for COVID-19 to spread in such contexts is significant. In Iran, 70,000 prisoners were tested for coronavirus and then bonded out if clear to alleviate crowding in prisons and the potential for the virus to spread. In the United States, prisoners are being forced to make 100,000 gallons of hand sanitizer for other people to use. 

Other Updates…

At the Greece Border

We discussed the situation on the border between Turkey and Greece last week, as Turkey’s President, Erdogan announced that he would no longer prevent refugees and asylum seekers from leaving Turkey. Since that announcement tens of thousands of refugees have gathered at the border between Turkey and Greece, and the situation has become quite tense. According to a report from Al Jazeera, “Greek security forces have used tear gas and water cannon to stop people from entering. Athens has suspended asylum applications for a month and said it prevented more than 42,000 people illegally entering the EU over the past two weeks.”

Meanwhile, people captured by the Greek Coast Guard over the lat 10 days are being held on a ship, and denied asylum protections. From Human Rights Watch:

“The refusal to allow people in its custody to seek asylum and the open threat to send them back to their persecutors flies in the face of the legal obligations Greece has agreed to and the values and principles it claims to represent,” said Bill Frelick, refugee and migrants rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Greece should immediately reverse this draconian policy, properly receive these people in safe and decent conditions, and allow them to lodge asylum claims.”

Video from the ship provided by an asylum seeker from Syria. 

Supreme Court Allows Remain in Mexico Policy to continue

From the Washington Post:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the Trump administration may continue its “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers while lower-court challenges continue, after the federal government warned that tens of thousands of immigrants massed at the southern border could overwhelm the immigration system.

The justices reversed a decision of a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which had ordered the policy be suspended Thursday on parts of the border. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only noted dissenter.

The Trump administration had warned the justices of a dire situation without their intervention.

“Substantial numbers of up to 25,000 returned aliens who are awaiting proceedings in Mexico will rush immediately to enter the United States,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in a brief. “A surge of that magnitude would impose extraordinary burdens on the United States and damage our diplomatic relations with the government of Mexico.”

The program — officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP — is among the tools the Trump administration has used to curb mass migration from Central America and elsewhere across the southern U.S. border.

In the 13 months it has been in place, the government said 60,000 migrants have been sent back into Mexico to await their U.S. asylum hearings, part of an effort to limit access to United States and to deter people from attempting the journey north.

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