CAIRO (Al Jazeera) – The coronavirus pandemic has amplified risks for the most vulnerable in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), according to a new report by Amnesty International.
Already existing inequalities and discrimination have left some people – including prisoners, refugees, migrants and minorities – disproportionately affected by the pandemic, said the report by the human rights watchdog published on Wednesday.
In an example of institutionalized discrimination, Zionist regime authorities did not provide COVID-19 vaccinations to five million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip when the regime’s vaccination drive began in December 2020.
"This move flagrantly violated Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under international law,” the report said.
The pandemic also worsened the situation for migrant workers tied to the "abusive” kafala sponsorship system in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the rights watchdog said.
While some Persian Gulf countries waived penalties for overstaying visas, many migrant workers also faced arbitrary dismissal from their jobs and were not paid for months.
Migrant workers were also at an increased risk of COVID-19 because of unsanitary conditions and overcrowding in camps or shelters.
In Jordan, thousands of migrant workers who lost their jobs rarely had access to social protection or alternative employment.
In several countries, prisoners were at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 due to overcrowding, insanitary conditions and poor ventilation, the report found.
Overcrowding is common due to arbitrary detention practices, including prolonged pre-trial detention without effective appeal, as in Egypt, or the so-called administrative detention by the Zionist regime, the rights watchdog said.
Heba Morayef, regional director for MENA at Amnesty International called 2020 "a catastrophic year” for those already marginalized, as the pandemic made their situation "more precarious than ever”.
"The pandemic has amplified divisions, discrimination and inequalities that already exist in the region. Governments must prioritize the provision of adequate medical care in prisons and to alleviate overcrowding; all those who have been arbitrarily detained must be released,” Morayef said.