Travel discrimination in the age of COVID-19

Nasser bin Nasser
Nasser bin Nasser (Photo: Jordan News)
Access to COVID-19 vaccines has long been recognized as a potential creator of disparities among countries, communities, and people with disproportionate access to vaccines. Back in April, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said that vaccine equity was the "challenge of our time". اضافة اعلان

A new potential creator of disparity comes in the form of blanket travel bans impacting residents of certain countries. For example, a number of countries in the European Union have imposed bans on residents of Jordan and other countries in the region, which do not take into consideration the vaccination status of the traveler. Is the denial of entry for a vaccinated individual holding a valid visa a new form of disparity and discrimination? While nationality had previously been grounds to deny a visa or entry into a country, denial based on a place of residency had largely been unheard of prior to COVID-19.

From a legal perspective, it is well within the rights of any country to deny a traveler’s entry into their borders, for whatever reason, even for those holding valid visas. To those at the receiving end of such policies however, it is difficult to accept travel bans largely because there is no insight into the rationale behind such decisions.  

At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, countries rightly and understandably began placing blanket travel bans on effected regions and countries in order to curtail the spread of the virus. Even Jordanians stuck abroad were unable to exercise their constitutional right to return home before repatriation flights came into effect.

These travel bans subsided as countries gained vital knowledge about the virus and its treatment and were able to ramp up their public health systems to deal with a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases. Vaccine rollouts also undoubtedly helped ease the situation as well. While major spikes or the discovery of new strains can still elicit new travel bans, such as that of the Indian (Delta and Delta Plus) variant and the subsequent travel ban on travelers from India, these are normally temporary, and less common nowadays.

There are three possible explanations for blanket travel bans, such as those currently imposed by a number of European countries on residents of Jordan and other countries in the region. Firstly, countries are rightly concerned with new strains of viruses that could be resistant to existing vaccines and spread faster than others. This concern becomes all the more understandable when considering the sheer magnitude of travelers arriving at European borders; Europe is actually the global leader in international tourism, with over 700 million inbound tourists annually.

Secondly, the governments of the countries issuing the bans could have a low level of trust in the integrity of the vaccination data provided by Jordan and other banned countries. This could stem from concerns regarding the ease of falsifying vaccination records, and a general record of corruption and/or transparency in those countries. Perhaps the language of the vaccination certificate itself and its acceptance in non-Arabic speaking countries could also play a part.

Lastly, it could simply be a result of a calculus of interests, whereby countries that can exert greater political pressure somehow survive the ban regardless of the status of the pandemic in their country, while others don’t.

Jordanians find the reasoning difficult to contend with. They have a long history of struggling with visas and restrictions on their ease of movement internationally, especially after 9/11. This is all the more frustrating given Jordan’s record of welcoming refugees and those fleeing regional conflict based on humanitarian principles. They should find some consolation in the fact that these measures are temporary and are gradually being lifted with countries such a France and Spain already exhibiting excellent leadership by removing them. The remaining thing for Jordanian travelers to worry about is whether European countries will accept vaccines produced by China or Russia, and whether they were lucky enough to have received those produced by Western countries, but that is another issue altogether.

Read more opinions