Rossana Mercado-Rojas.

The virus does not scare me

2020-03-27 | Rossana Mercado-Rojas padlock


”While some – those who can – decide to self-quarantine over a sore throat, a distance sneeze, others will continue working as much as they can because rents nor any monthly payment has been frozen.” Rossana Mercado-Rojas would like to know what Sweden intends to do for the people outside its system.

Rossana Mercado-Rojas is an artist from Peru living in Sweden.

Some weeks ago Sweden decided to stop testing anyone that is not from the "risk group" and have encouraged the population to stay home if they feel the slightest symptom or have been in contact with people who have shown symptoms. There has not been a governmental general decision to shut down the country. Some people have self-quarantined since. Sweden has placed the responsibility of stopping the spread of the disease over its citizens' shoulders.

How does this self-quarantine work for people who live in multi-family buildings where elevators, laundry rooms, and common areas are still being used by everybody? Where there is no clear information of what self-isolation means, where there is no disinfection of the common areas?

While some – those who can – decide to self-quarantine over a sore throat, a distance sneeze, others will continue working as much as they can because rents nor any monthly payment has been frozen.

When is Sweden going to address the large number of people living in the country but don't have a personal number (registered as residents) and are not entitled to any compensation for sick leave or for staying at home to take care of children? These very same people who are not entitled to compensation are also not entitled to health care; therefore they will try to work as much as possible to have money to cover for medical expenses if they will require it, for them and for their families.

How is it possible to not address the situation of people who will have to decide if it is more irresponsible to self-quarantine and doesn’t bring income or continue working and carry the disease? Hearing that the resources are scarce and therefore testing should only be done on certain people in a rich country like Sweden is appalling.

The budget reduction has not only been done systematically on health services but also at the migration offices. Right now, the waiting times for getting a residency permit approved in Sweden are the longest in Europe, reaching up to 22 months in the case of residency based on family ties, for example. Meaning that either these families, couples, are torn apart, asked to wait in their ”home country” for an uncertain answer for almost two years (families that sometimes include children with a swedish parent) or are waiting inside the country without having the possibility to be recognized as residents. Early this year the migration office decided to fire 146 employees, meaning that these waiting times will increase.

These days I wake up to try to find out what Sweden is planning to do about the large number of people who are living here working, studying, having a family here, waiting long for an answer, but not having the possibility to register and access to health care and social support. What are they planning to do with people in this precarious situation?

Everybody living here knows that without a personal number in Sweden you are basically a ghost and since everything is automated is even harder to find ways to receive information or deal with this. So even if the law says ”Everybody living in Sweden is entitled to...” without a personal number you are not counted as living here.

Basically, without a personal number you rely on the person-behind-the-desk, sometimes this person in charge decides to understand the situation and interpret the law in a human way and you (or your child) can get access to a specific service. But, as they said to me at the tax office, you are not entitled, they are not ”obliged”. A gray gray zone in a critical situation like this gets worse.

Countries around the world have made decisions such as freezing rents and debts. In my little third world country, Peru, the government is testing everyone who shows symptoms, has shut down the country and is giving basic compensation for people who live in extreme precarity (people who rely on what they can make daily) so they can also follow the shutdown. There are 3 million people who are receiving this basic support in Peru. Energy and water bills will not be made during this month either.

Now, what will Sweden do for the people outside its system? not because they are not working hard to be inside its system – doing everything ”right”, following the ”rules”; working, studying, learning one, two languages – but because there has been a political decision for a long long time to make it impossible. The virus does not scare me, the politics of not acknowledging the life of people as equally valuable, based on their origins is what scares me.

As a side note, 20 000 people have died on the mediterranean sea trying to come to Europe since 2014. In Peru, cholera killed 3000 people in 1991, there are 14 000 cases of dengue this year. During the internal conflict (1980-2000), around 70,000 people were killed in Peru. I can't recount the number of people dying from war or other diseases in other countries, but what I know is that life has always been and felt precarious.

I wrote this text days ago and after that, Peru has started a curfew forbidding every person to be out on the streets after 8 pm. Having the police and military on the streets, as we had in the 80’s during the internal conflict, is frightening and brings back very bad memories. The sense of danger, not protection, the sense that when there is a political decision to call a moment a crisis, freedom human rights become secondary and the repressive forces take control over civil life.

On the other side, in Sweden, where there hasn’t been a decision to completely shut down the country, there are police/guards inside some stores and the number of SL guards has increased a lot on the pendeltag and other trains.

These days, and after reading the media’s assumptions about why ”certain” people are dying from covid-19, I can say that there is no need to use tanks and bullets when there are more ”civilized” methods to dehumanize, oppress and disregard certain people’s lives. It is equally frightening.

I just started to carry my passport…


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