Ethical Limits of Pandemic Governance

Populations on the Move and the Law


  • Nergis Canefe



This article explores the context-bound qualities of the legally sanctified practices of ‘quarantine’ and border closures as it examines the normalized invisibility of populations on the move who have not been ‘protected’ through the use of such standard Covid-19 measures. Inside national borders, isolation and quarantine orders are traditionally issued by states in accordance with the state’s broad powers to protect public health. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, these orders have been either not applied to or on certain occasions intervened with or suspended when a quarantine was deemed unreasonable or inapplicable with reference to migrants, refugees and displaced people. The article proposes a redefinition of death as ‘death-in-living’ and ‘grievable lives’ as ‘disposable lives’ in order to understand the conundrum concerning the selective application of Covid-19 measures to irregular migrants, refugees, undocumented and non-status peoples and stateless communities. Legal responses to the pandemic continue to have a far greater impact upon populations on the move, displaced communities and refugees in radically unequal ways. The article reveals the ethical limitations of global pandemic governance in terms of how legal and policy-based practices systemically fail and desert certain populations and advances a notion of justice that starts from a deeper understanding of existing injustices.

Keywords: global governance; death-in-living; grievable lives; populations on the move; Covid-19 pandemic; ethical limits of law.


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Special Section: Law, Public Policy and the Covid Crisis—Part Two