The Impact Of COVID-19 On Vulnerable Communities Including Refugees

How The Pandemic Has Led to Severe Repercussions For Refugees

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only jolted the economic progress of nations around the world in general, but it is leaving behind a trail of wider ramifications and repercussions on the lives of vulnerable communities, specifically, refugees. Such repercussions can be grouped under following headings:

High Risk of Infections

Refugee populations are at a higher risk of getting infected by the COVID-19 virus because of their overcrowded living conditions,[1] which make it difficult to maintain the social distance.[2] In addition, most refugee camps lack basic amenities like clean water and hygienic conditions.[3] Where the pandemic has limited the access to healthcare systems in general, refugee populations lack such facilities at the first instance.[4] In addition, the refugee camps lack the basic medical supplies and equipment to test and treat infections.[5]

Increase in Social and Economic Inequalities

Since the governments all over the world are focused on protecting and reviving their economies that have been hit hard by the pandemic, they have cut down the humanitarian funding on refugee populations. This has directly affected the social and economic progress of refugees by decreasing the quantity and quality of the basic amenities like food and clothing, and by increasing the unemployment in refugee populations.[6] In addition, many governments, like that of Lebanon, have not hesitated to establish discriminatory restrictions against refugee populations, which are otherwise inapplicable to their resident populations.[7]

It is also to be noted that refugee populations lack in appropriate tools like technology, internet, and smart phones, which makes it difficult for them to receive and disseminate information.[8] Such poor access to information leads to a lack of awareness about the pandemic in such populations, limiting the timely control and spread of infections.

Many undocumented immigrants may not report infections or come forth for immunization in fear of reprisals or deportation. Furthermore, absence of health insurance, caused by financial difficulties, may lead to adverse consequences when it comes to immunization of vulnerable communities.[9]

Even in countries like Canada, which were striving to receive as many refugees as possible, the progress of settlement seems stagnant. Life for those who were accepted, to enter the country, has been affected by domestic closures of business and schools.[10]

Impact on Relief Efforts and Resettlement

The pandemic has halted the resettlement of refugees and asylum seekers. A report indicates that about 168 countries have closed their borders to refugees, and about 90 of them have directed asylum seekers to go back to their countries.[11]

Halted the Immigration Process

COVID-19 has pushed immigration concerns further down the list of priorities for governments around the world. With changing travel restrictions in place, refugees have been hit harder. They are leading a stranded life, with no recourse in sight, be it in the country from where they are running or the country where they aspire to settle. Many refugees who have been detained with the purpose of deportation now face indeterminate, unlawful, and unnecessary detention[12] until the conditions on travel are lifted, which may take another year or so. In many Gulf countries, such detainees are kept in unhygienic and overcrowded centres with no access to clean water or healthcare facilities.[13]

Where the immigration processes have slowed down in general, countries like Greece have stopped processing applications for asylum seekers,[14] and left them in lurch.

There are scenarios where even programs meant for the benefits of refugee populations are turning into bane for them. For instance, Greek authorities have a “protective custody regime” program for refugee children, which aims at protecting the unaccompanied children. However, the detention centres have been found to be unhygienic and overcrowded, making them all the more vulnerable to infections like COVID-19.[15]

References

[1] Lee, Sung & Wehrli, Zach, COVID-19 Brief: Impact on Refugees, US Global Leadership Coalition, 2020-12-08 online: https://www.usglc.org/coronavirus/refugees/#:~:text=While%20refugees%20have%20so%20far%20escaped%20high%20rates,shortages%20and%20limited%20employment%20opportunities%20for%20displaced%20people

[2] Human Rights Watch, Greece: Island Camps Not Prepared for Covid-19 2020-04-22 online: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/22/greece-island-camps-not-prepared-covid-19 accessed on 2021-01-26

[3] Mercy Corps, What effect is COVID-19 having on the Syria Crisis? online: https://www.mercycorps.org/blog/quick-facts-syria-crisis#covid-19-effect accessed on 2021-01-27

[4] Supra 1

[5] Human Rights Watch, “Syria: Aid Restrictions Hinder Covid-19 Response” 2020-04-08 online: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/28/syria-aid-restrictions-hinder-covid-19-response accessed on 2021-01-26

[6] Supra 1

[7] Human Rights Watch, Lebanon: Refugees at Risk in COVID-19 Response 2020-04-02 online: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/02/lebanon-refugees-risk-covid-19-response accessed on 2021-01-27

[8] Amnesty International, Bangladesh: COVID-19 Response flaws put older Rohingya refugees in Imminent Danger 2020-04-06 online: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/bangladesh-covid-19-response-flaws-put-older-rohingya-refugees-in-imminent-danger/ accessed on 2021-01-27

[9] Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19, 2020-03-19 online: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/19/human-rights-dimensions-covid-19-response accessed on 2021-01-26

[10] Levitz, Stephanie, Uncertain future looms for refugees seeking a Pandemic Era Fresh Start in Canada, CTV News 2020-12-12 online: https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/uncertain-future-looms-for-refugees-seeking-a-pandemic-era-fresh-start-in-canada-1.5228645 accessed on 2021-02-01

[11] Supra 1

[12] Human Rights Watch, Gulf States: Ease Immigration Detention in Pandemic 2020-04-07 online: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/07/gulf-states-ease-immigration-detention-pandemic accessed on 2021-01-26

[13] Ibid

[14] Human Rights Watch, Greece: Nearly 2,000 New Arrivals Detained in Overcrowded, Mainland Camps 2020-03-31 online: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/31/greece-nearly-2000-new-arrivals-detained-overcrowded-mainland-camps accessed on 2021-01-27

[15] Human Rights Watch, Greece: Free Unaccompanied Migrant Children 2020-04-14 online: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/14/greece-free-unaccompanied-migrant-children accessed on 2021-01-27