Refugees and displaced persons around the globe face challenges that leave them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and its related impacts. Many refugees live in precarious circumstances with limited access to livelihoods, which were further deepened by lockdowns and movement restrictions across the globe. Furthermore, the pandemic and restrictions imposed to curb it also accelerated protection concerns such as gender-based violence and child labour. Access to international protection including asylum has also been significantly reduced.
DRC’s COVID-19 related programming reached over 4.8 million displacement-affected people during 2020, in 34 countries around the world.
Source: DRC Global COVID-19 Response
Refugee camps around the world are frequently overcrowded, making social distancing nearly impossible. Access to sufficient hygiene, hand washing, and protective equipment like masks can also be a significant challenge, as well as access to adequate medical care if one were to fall ill.
Medical, hygienic, and testing capacities in most refugee camps are inadequate to ensure the appropriate identification, isolation, and treatment of COVID-19 cases. This leaves camp populations acutely vulnerable to the pandemic’s worst effects.
In many other refugee camps around the world, host governments severely restricted access to camps on the grounds of combating the pandemic.
The ‘closure’ of these camps did not only restrict outsiders from entering, but also prevented residents from leaving and entering, depriving them of livelihood and other opportunities available outside of the camps which reduced their ability to provide for themselves. Restrictions also impacted humanitarian organisations’ ability to provide aid. However, DRC quickly adapted to other modalities including using online tools and scaling up community-based response mechanisms.
This unfortunate combination of circumstances has left residents of refugee camps particularly vulnerable not only to the direct health impacts of COVID-19, but also to a range of other impacts such as loss of livelihoods and educational opportunities as well as protection risks.
DRC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is conducted in keeping with our core vision of ensuring a dignified life for all displaced. COVID-19 was a global crisis which affected all parts of the organisation, whether at our headquarters in Copenhagen or our field offices in hotspots across the globe.
Almost overnight, significant operational challenges arose in early 2020, including border closures preventing the arrival of critical supplies and increasingly restricted access to vulnerable populations. Many of these restrictions remained in place well into 2021.
The needs of vulnerable populations also changed overnight, and DRC has worked to evaluate all planned and ongoing responses to ensure that they are best suited to meet the critical and emerging needs faced by displaced populations right now. Thanks to a wide network of national and international staff and partners, DRC was able to quickly assess and react to the rapidly changing needs during this unprecedented time.
Even among those already vulnerable to its impact, the COVID-19 pandemic affects diverse populations unequally along age, gender, and other lines. To ensure our support is both accessible and appropriate to all who need it, DRC has worked to systematically identify and assess the unique needs presented by specific population groups.
In Bosnia & Herzegovina, thousands of refugees and displaced persons are sleeping rough during the country’s notoriously severe winter. Many stay in improvised shelters in the forest or abandoned buildings. Overwintering in these conditions without adequate heating or hygiene facilities puts them at serious risk for COVID-19 and other illnesses. That’s why DRC provides health and protection services to people on the move through Bosnia, regardless of where they stay.
While the pandemic globally presented itself as a health crisis, early on it became clear from DRC’s and others analysis, that the impact on the protection of people of concern, and on their economic situation, would be severe. Therefore, while DRC responded across all sectors it works in, the significantly increased needs related to protection and economic support were met with proportionate responses. DRC’s activities related to economic recovery assistance reached more than eight times the initial target globally, while our protection programmes reached six times more people. And we were able to assist more than five times as many people as originally planned with basic needs responses, including food, hygiene packages etc.
All of DRC’s interventions aim to ensure that displaced people are better able to protect themselves from the virus and maintain a dignified standard of living, even if their circumstances make doing so a challenge.
Vaccine access has emerged as a contentious topic around the world, with countries jockeying to get a hold of limited supplies for their residents.
DRC calls for equal access to vaccines for all countries and groups of people who need it. This includes refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants, and internally displaced persons, who risk exclusion from accessing the COVID-19 vaccine thanks to unequal frameworks surrounding eligibility and inclusion in national health schema.
COVID-19 does not discriminate according to migration status. Ensuring that everyone who needs it can receive the vaccine as quickly as possible is the surest way out of the current crisis.
As we mark one year since WHO declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic, DRC has published “Global COVID-19 Response Final Report” analysing how the virus and related impacts had severe effects on already very vulnerable refugees and displaced persons.
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Aid organisations have sounded the alarm as thousands of people either go missing or perish as they journey from sub-Saharan Africa to reach Europe despite movement restrictions due to COVID-19.
A refugee woman works hard to provide for her family while coping with the outcomes of a global pandemic.
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