The coronavirus pandemic has upended normal life across the world – taking lives, decimating jobs and interrupting education. It has also brought restrictions for the world’s most privileged passport holders: efforts to contain Covid-19 have made borders – usually almost invisible to Europeans – a hard reality.
Researchers at the COMPAS migration research centre, at the University of Oxford, posed the question: ‘whose passport is the strongest now?’ in a recent blog where they noted a temporary change in fortunes for globetrotting European passport holders entering Global South countries.
When Europe was named the new epicentre of the outbreak in March, Uganda was among the first to restrict travel to and from European countries, returning over 20 EU citizens who refused to agree to its border-control measures of two weeks in quarantine. Turkey, Jordan and others followed suit.
As regional restrictions, and eventually a nationwide lockdown, limited movement inside their home country, one Italian reported ‘feeling like a refugee’.
Covid-19’s ‘upending of the mobility paradigm’ is more than just a reason for schadenfreude. The disruption of what is taken as the natural order of things helps to reveal the fragility of privileges taken as birth rights, and may create conditions under which narratives of illegal migration and invasion central to rich-world border regimes can be questioned – and challenged.