COVID-19, the novel coronavirus declared as 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 challenges from displacement. The Women’s Refugee Commission is actively assessing the wide-ranging effects still unfolding from this public health emergency from the impact on asylum and migrant rights to the increased risks of gender-based violence for women and girls.


Statement from Women’s Refugee Commission Executive Director Sarah Costa on the COVID-19 Pandemic

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.


Addressing Discrimination and Inequality in the Global Response to COVID-19

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.


Women’s Refugee Commission Calls for Inclusive and Gender-Sensitive Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

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.

In the News

Trump Administration Ramps up Expulsions of Migrant Youth During Coronavirus

May 14, 2020

Associated Press story

The Associated Press highlighted 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

April 19, 2020

Michelle Brane

Michelle Brané, senior director of WRC’s Migrant Rights and Justice Program, spoke with Alicia Menendez on MSNBC 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.”


US Deported Thousands Amid COVID-19 Outbreak. Some Proved to Be Sick.

April 18, 2020

Michelle Brane in The New York Times

In The New York Times, 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.”


We Cannot Abandon Migrant and Refugee Women During the COVID-19 Crisis

April 15, 2020

Ms. Magazine

In Ms. Magazine, Stephanie Johanssen, WRC’s senior advocacy officer and UN representative, wrote this op-ed 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.”


Recommendations for Safe Release Procedures from Immigration Detention during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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.


COVID-19 Pandemic Cash and Voucher Assistance for Protection Considerations

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.

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Indefinite Suspension of Protections for Asylum Seekers and Unaccompanied Children

The Women’s Refugee Commission signed onto a letter to DHS and CDC on the Trump administration’s exploitation of the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to implement indefinite, illegal, and life-threatening restrictions on humanitarian protections at the southern US border. The letter was signed by 262 legal, faith-based, humanitarian, human rights, and community organizations, many of which advocate on behalf of asylum seekers, immigrants, unaccompanied children, and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.


Public Health Measures to Safely Manage Asylum Seekers and Children at the Border

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.


Letter Responding to Request for Comments on Suspension of Introduction of Persons Into United States From Designated Foreign Countries or Places for Public Health Purposes

The Migrant Rights and Justice (MRJ) Program of the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) wrote a letter to the Office of the Chief of Staff for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in opposition to the CDC HHS Docket No. CDC-2020-0033, Suspension of Introduction of Persons Into United States From Designated Foreign Countries or Places for Public Health Purposes published in the Federal Register on March 24, 2020 (hereinafter, the Rule) and the March 20, 2020 CDC order “Suspending the Introduction of Certain Persons from Countries Where a Communicable Disease Exists” (Order) based on the Rule.


Letter to the Mexican government condemning incidents in which Mexican authorities transferred and abandoned migrants at its border with Guatemala

The Women’s Refugee Commission and 25 partners wrote a letter to the government of Mexico expressing deep concerns regarding the health and safety of people on the move in Mexico in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic.


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.


Los Estados de América deben garantizar la salud y vida de personas migrantes y refugiadas frente a emergencia por el COVID-19

WRC se unió a varias organizaciones a hacer un llamado urgente a los Estados de la región para tomar las medidas necesarias para garantizar los derechos a la salud, integridad personal y vida de las personas migrantes y solicitantes de protección internacional afectado desproporcionadamente por la propagación de COVID-19.


Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis While Protecting Asylum Seekers

The Women’s Refugee Commission, alongside Amnesty International USA, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières USA, Human Rights First, Physicians for Human Rights, and Refugees International, calls on the Trump administration to cease its reported plan to shut the border to people seeking asylum in the United States.


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.