09 October 2020
Amidst fears that the country’s healthcare system would be overwhelmed by a Covid-19 outbreak, Vanuatu announced a State of Emergency and closed its borders to all inbound flights and vessels in March. Said one expert, “Their health system is fragile and even a few cases of Covid-19 will overwhelm their health system.” As of early October 2020, the country had not declared any cases of the virus.
In April, the arrival of Cyclone Harold, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Southeast Pacific, resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis on the island. This was further exacerbated by the government’s ban on foreign aid workers from entering the country due to fears that they could bring in coronavirus. In the wake of the cyclone, the government lifted restrictions on domestic air and sea travel to facilitate the movement of aid supplies, but strict international travel restrictions remain in place.
Vanuatu is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and has not historically received many asylum seekers. In 2013, UNHCR reported that it was aware of two refugees residing in the country, both of whom were awaiting resettlement.
According to the 2020 US Trafficking in Persons Report, there have been cases of labour exploitation of foreigners in the country. In March 2019, authorities arrested four Bangladeshi nationals for their role in a forced labour case involving 101 Bangladeshi nationals. In November that year, the government initiated court proceedings, leading to the first trafficking prosecution in the country’s history. Although the government provided support to some victims, it also forced some to stay in the country for the duration of the prosecution without allowing them to earn an income, increasing their vulnerability to re-trafficking and exploitation. There remains a lack of systematic anti-trafficking training for law enforcement officials and a lack of public awareness campaigns surrounding the issue.
There is little or no information about the use of enforcement measures like arrest and detention in immigration procedures in Vanuatu.
- U.S. State Department, “Trafficking in Persons Report - 2020,” 2020, https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-trafficking-in-persons-report/
- UNHCR, “Submission by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees For the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Compilation Report – Universal Periodic Review: Vanuatu,” UNHCR, https://www.refworld.org/docid/51b829460.html
- S. Weiss, “Life is on hold in one of the last coronavirus-free places on Earth,” Wired, 1 June 2020, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/vanuatu-pacific-island-coronavirus-cyclone
- Voters Washing Their Hands Before Casting Ballots in a Polling Station on Malekula Island on 19 March 2020, (The MSG Secretariat, "Supporting Observation of a Covid-19 General Elections in Vanuatu," International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2 April 2020, https://www.idea.int/news-media/news/supporting-observation-covid-19-general-elections-vanuatu)