The COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Refugees

How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic’s Affected Refugees?

COVID-19 has upended the lives of people globally, including refugee women, children, and youth already facing daunting challenges from displacement. When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020, more than 70 million displaced people—at least half of them women and girls—were already struggling for the most basic services in very tough circumstances.

The New Humanitarian reports that “[A]round the world, already marginalized refugees and displaced communities have been forced further into poverty, women and girls are facing increased exposure to gender-based violence and worsening gender inequality, access to education has been further reduced, and people are under increasing pressure to return to unsafe or unstable situations in countries like Syria and Venezuela, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.”

WRC’s Priorities on the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) remains dedicated to the fight for the human rights of every refugee and asylum seeker. This encompasses the right to protection and to lifesaving health care, including reproductive health services, which can be a challenge for refugees and other displaced people to attain during a pandemic. Access to food and clean water, as well as safety from gender-based violence, are also at risk in a pandemic, and discrimination and xenophobia are exacerbated in crises.

We remain unflagging in our advocacy on behalf of local organizations—particularly women’s rights organizations—that serve as first responders to COVID-19. They have the knowledge and networks of trust to do this critical work most effectively.

Our Advocacy on the COVID-19 Pandemic

WRC is committed to ensuring the human rights of every refugee and asylum seeker are protected, including during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Below is a list of WRC’s advocacy work related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaving No One Behind: Online Networking in the COVID-19 Context

This paper describes the strategies employed, ongoing gaps faced, and recommendations for engaging women with disabilities in all their diversity in online networking for inclusive humanitarian action.

Disruptions and Adaptations: The Effects of COVID-19 on Contraceptive Services across the Humanitarian-Development Nexus

WRC 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.

In Their Own Words: COVID-19 Update on 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-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of these issues.

In Their Own Words: COVID-19 Update on Food Insecurity

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.

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

These recommendations are for all stakeholders, including US 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

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 COVID-19 pandemic.

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

WRC endorses the recommendations from public health experts on the measures outlined in this document to protect US border officers, those exercising their legal right to request protection in the US, and the public health of our nation.

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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Guidance on Establishing Remote Monitoring and Management of Gender-Based Violence 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 prevention and response on how to set up remote monitoring and management of their interventions.

US Deportations During Global Pandemic Risk Spreading COVID-19, Returning Migrants and Asylum Seekers to Danger and Instability

WRC 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 or as accompanied children with their parents in the custody of US 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 in the Americas 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.

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WRC Media on the COVID-19 Pandemic

The news media across the world have featured WRC’s research and staff expertise on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on refugees.

Denial of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Care: A Man-Made Emergency

In an op-ed in ReliefWeb, Stephanie Johanssen, who was serving as WRC’s senior advocacy officer and UN representative, responded to a request to remove references to sexual and reproductive health from the UN’s COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response plan.

Exploiting COVID-19 to Attack Migrant and Asylum-Seeking Children

In an op-ed in Ms. Magazine, WRC Policy Advisor Diane Eikenberry wrote about how the COVID-19 pandemic has left migrant and asylum-seeking children uniquely vulnerable.

Trump Administration Ramps up Expulsions of Migrant Youth During Coronavirus

In an Associated Press article, Michelle Brané, who was serving as senior director of WRC’s Migrant Rights and Justice team, said the Trump administration is using the COVID-19 virus as an excuse for expelling migrant children. She said the administration could admit them and still counter the spread of the virus through measures like temperature checks and quarantines.

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

COVID-19 spread to more than 185 countries as of May 2020. WRC 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 Michelle Brané Discusses on MSNBC Dangers Children Arriving at the US-Mexico Border Face During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Michelle Brané, who was serving as senior director of WRC’s Migrant Rights and Justice team, spoke with Alicia Menendez on MSNBC about how unaccompanied children at the US-Mexico border are fleeing violence that has worsened during the 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 the virus.

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

In The New York Times, Michelle Brané, who was serving as WRC’s senior director of its Migrant Rights and Justice team, speaks on the importance of having precautions in place for children deported from the US.

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

In an op-ed in Ms. Magazine, Stephanie Johanssen, who was serving as WRC’s senior advocacy officer and UN representative, along with Women Refugee Route, urged global leaders and the humanitarian community not to abandon refugee women during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

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.