COVID-19, the novel coronavirus declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, has upended the lives of people globally, including refugee women, children, and youth already facing daunting challenges from displacement. When WHO made that announcement, more than 70 million displaced people—at least half of whom are women and girls—were already struggling for the most basic services in very tough circumstances.
During this pandemic, the Women’s Refugee Commission remains dedicated to the fight for the human rights of every refugee and asylum seeker. This includes the right to protection, to food and clean water, to lifesaving health care, including reproductive health services, and to safety from gender-based violence and from the discrimination and xenophobia that are exacerbated in crises.
We remain unflagging in our advocacy on behalf of local organizations—particularly women’s rights organizations—that are always the first responders. They have the knowledge and networks of trust to do this critical work most effectively.
Protecting the Rights of Migrants and Asylum Seekers at the US Border
In Ms. Magazine, Women’s Refugee Commission Policy Advisor Diane Eikenberry wrote an op-ed on June 1, 2020 on how the COVID-19 pandemic has left migrant and asylum-seeking children uniquely vulnerable.
The Associated Press highlighted in an article on May 14, 2020 how the Trump administration is quickly expelling young migrants and asylum seekers from the United States under an emergency declaration citing the coronavirus pandemic, with the AP citing 600 minors expelled in April 2020 alone.
Michelle Brané, senior director of WRC’s Migrant Rights and Justice Program, said the virus is an excuse for expelling children, and the Trump administration could admit them and still counter its spread through measures like temperature checks and quarantines.
WRC’s Michelle Brané Discusses on MSNBC Dangers Children Arriving at the US-Mexico Border Face During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Michelle Brané, senior director of WRC’s Migrant Rights and Justice Program, spoke with Alicia Menendez on MSNBC on April 19, 2020 about how unaccompanied children at the US-Mexico border are fleeing violence that has exacerbated during the global COVID-19 pandemic. She also discussed how detention centers have put the safety of asylum seekers and the workers monitoring them at risk due to COVID-19.
“What we’ve seen is that the administration has taken advantage of this moment to ‘expel’ — in their own words — ‘expel’ children and anyone seeking asylum at our border. COVID-19 did not eliminate the dangers people are fleeing. Those dangers continue. So when we ‘expel’ vulnerable asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, we are throwing them right back into those dangers. … Traffickers, kidnappers, cartels are waiting right there at the border and that’s why we’ve seen these kidnappings and these dangers go up.”
In The New York Times on April 18, 2020, WRC’s Michelle Brané speaks on the importance of having precautions in place for children deported from the US in an article on how the US is deporting thousands of people during the COVID-19 pandemic, including some people who are sick and children traveling alone.
“When you send kids back without any precautions, without any screening, you create a situation in which traffickers, smugglers and people who want to take advantage of them are literally waiting for them in these border towns.”
These recommendations are for all stakeholders, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), sponsoring family members or friends, and organizations offering post-release stabilization services, on steps to take to prepare for an individual’s or a family’s release from immigration detention during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ten Recommendations for a Human Rights-Grounded Response to Migration in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges in public health. It has also created enormous challenges in border management, migration and asylum policies, and service provisions. This document outlines 10 minimum essential elements that a response grounded in human rights to the migration phenomenon must include in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
The United States has the ability to both safeguard public health in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and safeguard the lives of families, adults, and children seeking asylum and other humanitarian protection at the U.S. southern border. The Women’s Refugee Commission endorses the recommendations from public health experts on the measures outlined in this document to protect U.S. border officers, those exercising their legal right to request protection in the United States, and the public health of our nation.
US deportations during global pandemic risk spreading COVID-19, returning migrants and asylum seekers to danger and instability
The Women’s Refugee Commission joined partner organizations to strongly denounce the Trump administration’s total ban on asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border and its continuation of deportations during the global pandemic.
Protecting Detained Immigrant Children and Families from COVID-19: FAQs on Flores v. Barr and O.M.G. v. Wolf
Thousands of children are detained across the US, whether as unaccompanied children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) or as accompanied children with their parents in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The inherent structure of these facilities makes precautionary measures to protect from COVID-19 — such as social distancing, frequent hand-washing, and medical isolation — extremely difficult, if not impossible, to implement.
States across the Americas must guarantee the lives and right to health of migrants and refugees in the face of the COVID-19 crisis
WRC joined several organizations urging governments of our region to implement the necessary measures to guarantee the rights to life, health, physical, mental, and moral integrity of migrants and petitioners for international protections disproportionately affected by the spread of COVID-19.
Ensuring the Rights of Displaced and Stateless Women and Girls Globally
COVID-19 spread to more than 185 countries as of May 2020. The Women’s Refugee Commission joins the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, Equal Rights Trust, and several other organizations on a call to action addressing discrimination and inequality in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Time of COVID-19, Those Affected by Gender-Discriminatory Nationality Laws Face Family Separation and Denied Access to National COVID-Related Benefits
The Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights released a statement calling on governments with gender-discriminatory nationality laws to address growing concern about family separation and inaccessible social services in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Global Campaign is housed at the Women’s Refugee Commission.
WRC’s Executive Director Sarah Costa outlines what the organization knows so far of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on refugee women and girls, including its effects on adolescent girls, child marriage, cash and livelihoods, sexual and reproductive health, nationality rights, and migrant and asylum rights.
In Ms. Magazine, Stephanie Johanssen, WRC’s senior advocacy officer and UN representative, wrote this op-ed on April 15, 2020 with Women Refugee Route urging global leaders and the humanitarian community not to abandon refugee women during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Organizations like ours were founded based on our experience that responses are most efficient if they are inclusive of those most affected. Ensuring that the humanitarian response to COVID-19 is age, gender and disability sensitive—and takes into account the displacement status of the individual and other diversity factors—is crucial to keeping everyone safe.”
WRC issued a statement calling for responses to the COVID-19 pandemic to put refugees’ human rights front and center. This was ahead of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee‘s launch of a Global Humanitarian Response Plan analyzing the direct public health and indirect immediate humanitarian consequences of the pandemic on the population in countries already facing other crises.
Advocating for Essential Reproductive Health Care
In ReliefWeb on June 3, 2020, Stephanie Johanssen, senior advocacy officer and UN representative for the Women’s Refugee Commission, writes this piece in response to a request to remove references to sexual and reproductive health from the UN’s COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response plan.
Disruptions and Adaptations: The Effects of COVID-19 on Contraceptive Services across the Humanitarian-Development Nexus
The Women’s Refugee Commission conducted a series of key informant interviews with diverse stakeholders to document the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on contraceptive service delivery, service delivery innovations and adaptations to continue providing contraception during the pandemic.
Addressing the Risks of Gender-Based Violence
Guidance on Establishing Remote Monitoring and Management of GBV Programming in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic
As the COVID-19 pandemic reaches new corners of the globe, this guidance brief aims to provide support to national, local and civil society organizations on the frontlines of gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and response on how to set up remote monitoring and management of their interventions.
Safeguarding and Promoting Livelihoods
From Afghanistan to El Salvador to Nigeria, we heard overwhelmingly from our partners that the loss of income for migrants, refugees, and local communities and the shuttering of services as a result of lockdowns means that food insecurity is an immediate threat to the well-being of displaced women, children, and youth.
This guidance on Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) for Protection Outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic is intended as a quick reference tool to support CVA and protection colleagues working directly with displaced and host clients to collaborate in the use of CVA for protection outcomes.
Addressing the Needs of Displaced Persons with Disabilities
Refugee women, children, and youth with disabilities are often excluded from vital services such as health care and education, economic opportunities, and programs that address gender-based violence. As we heard recently from our partners in Uganda, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, the COVID pandemic has exacerbated many of these issues.