By Nejoud Al-Yagout
The vaccine has given many of us hope. In fact, people around the world are rejoicing, especially after the CDC announced that people who have taken two doses of the vaccine can enjoy a mask-free existence, at least in the USA. Although this does not apply to us as yet (but perhaps will, soon, when enough of us get vaccinated), the news is a welcome tidbit of information amidst a sea of frustration and agony.
Many of us will breathe an audible sigh of relief when we are fully vaccinated; unfortunately, being fully vaccinated does not make a difference to the foreign residents in our country. As we all know by now, the Directorate General for Civil Aviation permits fully vaccinated citizens to travel directly back into the country freely, but this does not apply to expatriates (unless, for the convenience of locals, the expatriate happens to be a domestic helper traveling with a citizen).
What is new regarding this rule, however, is that there is now talk to reverse this decision, perhaps by the end of the month. And that is something to rejoice, but the fact that it was implemented in the first place, albeit transiently, is disconcerting.
Understandably, for the overall health of citizens and non-citizens, the airport can close and open as the government or aviation authorities see fit. But this rule should apply to anyone flying in and out of the country. Sadly, as we have seen in the last few years of rising xenophobia in this country, there are rules for locals and rules for foreigners.
Fully vaccinated expatriates are afraid to leave the country now because they are not sure they will be allowed to return. This may change in the near future, but who wants to take the risk? Jobs and livelihoods are at stake; and so they have to restrict themselves as though they had never been vaccinated in the first place. Some cannot attend funerals or go back to their country for whatever reason, personal or otherwise. If this rule does not change by the end of June, they may even have to stay in the country during the summer, forgoing a much-needed holiday.
Even if the local human rights organizations who have expressed dismay at this rule are able to influence authorities to reverse this decision, what else do we have to contend with in the future when it comes to non-citizens?
Maybe with enough locals speaking out in defense of expatriates, we can finally galvanize the people in power to transform our community. We need to create a harmonious community, a community in which all of us-regardless of our nationality, ethnicity, gender, skin color, or position of privilege-bring joy to one another. We are in these borders together.
And, yes, each country is responsible for its citizens, but let us ensure it does not come at the expense of non-citizens. Let us ensure it does not violate the human rights of another. Let us ensure our decisions do not land us on another list of least favorite countries for expatriates, not for our reputation but for our conscience and for the wellbeing of others.
There is a saying that goes: Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem for you personally. Privilege is a blessing, but it is only an asset when it is accompanied by gratitude and justice.