Protection of displaced people must not be forgotten in COVID-19 responseWhile COVID-19 affects people without discrimination, displacement-affected communities are among the most vulnerable and likely to be disproportionally impacted. Access to protection and assistance must be upheld, and the current crisis must not be used as a pretext for discriminatory containment measures and the hindering of access to seek asylum.
The current global outbreak of COVID-19 poses a serious threat to all people. But it is likely to hit displacement-affected communities harder due to existing vulnerabilities and weakening coping mechanisms such as the prevalence of chronic diseases, limited access to health care as well as running water, basic sanitation and hygiene, further compounded by the latent overcrowding which characterizes many camp and settlement dwellings and renders social distancing near impossible.
In a situation like the current, it is adamant to ensure that displaced populations are included in national responses to enable their access to health care, hygiene items and other assistance as required related to both prevention, treatment and recovery, and that restrictions on movement is applied in a non-discriminatory manner.
While DRC endorses national efforts to contain the spread of the disease, these same measures also pose unprecedented challenges and vastly impede our access to vulnerable populations at field level. Closing of borders and lockdowns as applied in a growing number of countries globally, are impeding the delivery of aid. Existing life-saving programs must be upheld to the widest extent possible.
DRC underscores that, even in times of crisis, access to asylum must be safeguarded and the principle of non-refoulement respected. Emergency measures put in place to protect the general public health should be proportionate and non-discriminatory and must never impede safe access for those in need of international protection. The deviations already observed by some governments must not serve as a precedent for other governments to disregard their international protection responsibilities.
COVID-19 does not discriminate, and we are all potential carriers of the virus. The current crisis should not be used as a pretext for victimizing or politicizing marginalized or vulnerable populations or evading international responsibilities such as upholding access to asylum procedures and other forms of protection.
DRC takes the COVID-19 situation very seriously. We have been monitoring the outbreak and spread of the virus across our operations since its early phases and will continue to do so, especially as the pandemic spreads to regions with moderate or poor health services and poses a significant risk to affected communities. We are doing our utmost to maintain full operation and are presently redirecting and adjusting programs to prepare and respond to the outbreak, including scaling up on our sanitary services, and continue to respond to life-saving needs in the areas where we operate.
DRC’s core mandate is to protect displacement-affected communities. In the current situation, where these communities are among the most vulnerable and likely to be disproportionately impacted, their protection must not be forgotten.