20 Jun 2020
On the occasion of the World Refugee Day, the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) calls for an urgent humanitarian response to the situation of refugees around the world in the face of the global pandemic.
To date, the United Nations estimates that there are more than 25 million refugees in refugee camps. Around 84% of the total refugees are in developing countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa where there's shortage of health services.
The situation of refugees makes them very much vulnerable to COVID infection. With cramped living quarters in refugee camps, unsanitary environment, and lack of source of clean water for handwashing, infection and its rapid spread is highly probable. In Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, the density in refugee camps is about 40 people per 1000 meters squared while in Moira camp in Greece, density is 204 per 1000 meters squared. About 96 receiving countries of refugees have reported local transmission of the virus.
Infections have already been documented among Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, while more than half of the tested refugees in a camp in Germany with 600 people were found to be positive to the virus. Mass testing among refugees is very low which means the recorded infection may even be higher than what has already been reported. The lack of testing plus the unaddressed condition in refugee camps can mean that even more are and will be infected.
Aside from the risk of infection, many refugees have also lost their sources of income they use to augment the allowance they receive. They are in danger of going hungry as their financial capacity gets stretched to the breaking point while aid and subsidies offered to nationals are denied form refugees because of their status.
As with migrants and other displaced peoples, the pandemic has not only revealed the vulnerable status of refugees but made their situation worse. Refugees are already in crisis as they were forced out of their home country by various factors but mainly wars and political conflicts; experience extreme risks during their journey with countless dying in the sea or getting victimized by criminal elements; and endure hardships and many restrictions as refugees.
The pandemic has also put a spotlight on the sorry state of refugee life. While alarm bells have been tolled and actions have been conducted to quarantine refugees with positive infection, no significant moves have been done to implement mass testing among refugees and their living conditions have remained unimproved with physical distancing an impossibility.
Worse, some governments are using the pandemic as an excuse to further restrict mobility of refugees or completely ban the entry of new refugees putting them in even more risk.
While the IMA calls to address the immediate problems of refugees, the causes of their vulnerabilities should also be resolved including inadequate services, absence of protection mechanisms, discrimination and xenophobia, and inhumane living situation. In the long run, however, causes of displacement and explosion of the refugee population should be addressed including ending imperialist instigated wars and conflicts, and plundering the earth leading to a climate crisis.
Eni Lestari Andayani
Chairperson - IMA ( International Migrants Alliance)
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