Covid-19 is spreading into French Guiana

Indigenous peoples of French Guiana particularly threatened (Press Release)

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) warns of a spread of the Covid-19 pandemic from Brazil to neighboring French Guiana, emphasizing that the 9,000 members of indigenous communities in the rainforests near the Brazilian border are particularly at risk. According to the human rights organization, several dozen cases have already been detected among the indigenous communities of the French overseas territory. The virus is often introduced by illegal gold-diggers from Brazil, while the border with Brazil has been closed since March 19, 2020. "The indigenous Wayana, Palikour, Lokono, and Kalini'nia communities are particularly threatened because they live in remote villages and medical personnel have to use pirogues to reach them. Many of the people suffer from diabetes and are therefore very vulnerable," explained Ulrich Delius, the STP's Director. Numerous indigenous communities have meanwhile withdrawn into self-isolation to protect themselves.

Last weekend, public life in French Guiana came to a virtual standstill because of a strict curfew in 16 of the 22 communities. This was the authorities' response to a sharp rise in the number of Corona-infections in the area and in the neighboring Brazilian provinces of Amapá and Pará, where 57 members of indigenous communities have already died of the virus. In French Guyana, 94 new infections were detected yesterday. So far 1,255 people have been infected and three people have died from the virus.

"Now, it has to be feared that the virus will spread rapidly," Delius said. "The suspicion is often directed against indigenous peoples, because of their contacts with people from Brazil living illegally in the area – and because of their community-based way of life." I an appeal published in April, the Council of Indigenous Peoples of French Guiana complained about generalized suspicions and prejudice against indigenous people in connection with the spread of the virus. Further, the Council stated that the allegations have already lead to a manhunt. Entire families have been criminalized, and indigenous people have been met with hatred and rejection. According to the Council, the recent developments can be compared to the traumatization of the indigenous population of the forests through the introduction of diseases at the beginning of the colonial period.

In the meantime, the distribution of protective masks in indigenous villages has been stepped up. "However, the medical care situation of many indigenous settlements is still desolate," Delius warned. Around 290,000 people live in the French overseas territory, which is roughly the size of Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein.