COVID-19 has infected over 2 million people worldwide. As countries enter a “lockdown” across the globe, it is worth reflecting on the risk the pandemic and mitigation measures imposed bring to forcibly displaced communities.
This trend report analyses the scale of disruption for Coronavirus on the scale of those communities who are marginalised during this world pandemic due to their legal status – the refugees, internally displaced people and migrants. This article evidences the need to develop mitigation measures to prevent a global catastrophe.
The UN has suspended resettlement procedures for the millions of refugees, IDPs and migrants who are living in camps and detention centres worldwide. The conditions in camps and detention centres are a breeding ground for a devastating outbreak of COVID-19. According to a report by the UNHCR, there are an unprecedented 71 million people who are forcibly displaced to date and 96 refugee hosting countries are exposed to the local transmission of the Novel Coronavirus (The Lancet, 2020).
On April 1st, the IRC (International Rescue Committee) published a press release to illustrate how the COVID-19 pandemic could affect refugees (IRC, 2020). According to the analysis, the virus rapidly spreads in confined spaces with scarce sanitary resources. This was demonstrated by the cases of the COVID-19 on the Diamond Princess cruise ship which was quarantined in Yokohama, Japan. The novel coronavirus spread four times faster on the cruise ship than it did at the peak of its outbreak in Wuhan.
“The novel coronavirus spread four times faster on the cruise ship than it did at the peak of its outbreak in Wuhan.”
Refugee and displaced people camps such as Al Hol, Syria, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh and Moria, Greece have a prevalent use of communal hygiene facilities and limited access to healthcare and sanitation. With a high population density such as Moria going up to 203,800 per km2, it is evident that there is a soaring potential for the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. An examination conducted by ACAPS in Cox’s Bazar (ACAPS. 2020), Bangladesh, demonstrates the risk factors typically involved in camps. The primary impact of COVID-19 would be a transmission and death rate that is higher than any other impacted population.
The predominant conditions in majority shelter and settlement response e.g. refugee camps for the forcibly removed are as following:
- Limited or no access to soaps and sanitisers
- Limited or no access to healthcare facilities such as transmission preventive equipment and human resources to treat any health conditions including potential COVID-19 cases
- Shared hygiene infrastructures such as water access and toilets
- Cramped and crowded living conditions that make social distancing impossible
- Movement restrictions of those within camps to leave the camp due to lack of adequate paperwork
- Poor food consumption that leads to much lower immunity than the general population that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19
Moreover, if anyone member in each household has a chronic illness, the whole household becomes even more vulnerable to the virus. In the case of exposure to COVID-19, the virus will breed on the conditions listed above and an accelerated transmission will potentially occur.
The Zaatari and Azraq camps in Jordan were closed off in March. In early April (The national, 2020), no entry or exit from Cox’s Bazaar was imposed, locking millions of refugees inside the camp (BBC, 2020). By mid-April, half of the refugees in a German camp had been tested positive (EUObserver, 2020). It is evident that an outbreak of COVID-19 in refugee camps will be catastrophic.
“The pandemic does not stigmatize nor discriminate according to a population’s legal status or borders”
In conclusion, mitigation measures for COVID-19 must include those who have been forcibly displaced and have limited access to sanitation.
Furthermore, mitigation policies and strategies for COVID-19 need to be linguistically and culturally approachable in any holistic and inclusive approach. It is prescient for countries to ensure that IDPs, refugees and migrants are provided with the services and facilities appropriate to prevent rapid transmission of the pandemic to protect not only these camps but global populations in general.
It is imperative that now, more than ever, countries are reminded of the pledge taken to “leave no one behind” as part of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN, 2020). The pandemic does not stigmatize nor discriminate according to a population’s legal status or borders, it needs to be controlled through an internationally coordinated strategy. It is crucial for state policies to be inclusive of all communities and ultimately aim to protect our international community holistically.
By Samia Khan
A contributor and member of the Cov360 team
26 April 2020