Snapshots of Pandemic Resilience and Vulnerability

COVID-19 response case studies assess the preparedness of states and the challenges faced by vulnerable populations.

State Responses to COVID-19

In 2020, a report on immigrants in detention was able to highlight the varied responses to COVID-19 in 20 countries. The collaboration between Western’s Humanitarian and Development Research Initiative (HADRI) and the International Detention Coalition (IDC) was presented as case studies that “highlight the very high risk of contracting COVID-19 in detention,” says Nichole Georgeou, who is the director of HADRI.

In one example, Singaporean researchers looked at the largest refugee settlement in the world, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, which houses roughly 900,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, living at a density of approximately 40,000 people per square kilometre. While the potential for disease spread at the settlement has been outlined by epidemiologists, the authors noted that, as of June 2020, there was only one testing facility. 

The HADRI/IDC report has been referenced in commentaries and submissions by Nobel Peace Prize winning NGO, Human Rights Watch, and IDC will use the case studies to continue to advance urgent discussions on how to support people in immigration detention across more than 100 countries. The United Nations has called for a reduction of people in immigration detention worldwide to reduce the risks of pandemic deaths. 

Need to know

  • Decisiveness slowed immediate pandemic impacts.
  • Immigrants in detention are at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
  • Social divisions and reliance on external entities hamper state disaster mitigation.

HADRI was launched in 2016 to highlight the complexity of international responses to conflicts and disasters, explains Georgeou. As early as June 2020, Georgeou and her collaborators had also co-produced a report on state responses to COVID-19 in 43 countries and territories. These snapshots led to dozens of follow-ups, including the detainee report. 

“The first report suggested that the decisiveness of Pacific Islands governments had helped them fare exceptionally well initially,” Georgeou points out. A recent experience with measles had devastated Samoa. “So the Solomon Islands had rigorous checks in place at airports as early as February 2020.”

Collaborators on this report, Sergio Moldes Anaya from the University of Granada and Harlan Koff of the University of Luxembourg, later extended their research to case studies that to pointed to three key points of state vulnerability: exposure to external shocks, a state’s capacity to respond, and social divides. “Mexico, for example, struggled from all three — with heavy dependence on oil and exports, the government chose not to close borders and suffered widespread outbreaks as a result. Australia, on the other hand, was well-rounded on all three and fared quite well,” says Koff. Georgeou says there will be many insights from the pandemic about disaster preparedness. “I hope that all these timely studies help us keep a record of the lessons.”

Meet the Academic | Dr Nichole Georgeou

Dr Nichole Georgeou (PhD, MSCD(Hons), BCA, Dip Ed) is Associate Dean, International, and Director, Humanitarian and Development Research Initiative (HADRI) at Western Sydney University where she is Associate Professor, Humanitarian and Development Studies.   

Her areas of research and academic writing broadly fall into three streams (1) civil society and volunteering for development; (2) aid and development, and (3) human security and food systems. These themes combine in HADRI and in its concerns with the articulation of humanitarian practice and development interventions. She is a regular article and book reviewer in the disciplines of development studies, sociology and politics and her research has been published in Journal of Sociology, Australian Journal of History and Politics, PORTAL: Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies, Australian Journal of Political Science,  PLOS One, Voluntas, Third Sector Review, and Journal of Intercultural Studies.  She is an Editorial Board member for Development in Practice, and the International Gramsci Journal. Nichole plays an active role in issues of aid and development through her involvement in the Development Studies Association of Australia.  


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Future-Makers is published for Western Sydney University by Nature Research Custom Media, part of Springer Nature.