The Covid-19 pandemic has had devastating impacts across the globe. Some of the people who have been severely affected are refugees and asylum seekers. During this catastrophic health crisis, these groups of people seem to have been sidelined and forgotten, which is having crippling effects on their wellbeing.
The majority of refugees live in poor urban areas. These areas are often densely populated and lack basic sanitation. This means that measures such as social distancing are difficult to adhere to and maintaining basic hand hygiene is an immense struggle.
Limited access to health facilities, basic PPE, clean water and soap, also increases refugees’ risk of infection significantly. Studies suggest that a Covid-19 outbreak in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, a refugee camp that hosts over 600 000 Rohingya refugees, could deplete medical resources and
overwhelm camp hospitals within 58 days. In turn, this could lead to a dramatic increase in refugee deaths not only from Covid-19, but also other deadly diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, which is already highly prevalent amongst refugees.
In addition to this, refugees have limited access to public health facilities. In Lebanon for example, Syrian and Palestinian refugees must provide identification documents if they wish to access healthcare services. Considering most refugees are undocumented, they are often unable
to gain access to medical treatment. Even if they do get access, they may not possess the funds to pay for treatment.
Lockdowns and Covid-19 restrictions have exacerbated pre-existing employment issues. Refugees and displaced people already faced difficulty obtaining work permits, formal employment, and faced extra legal and practical barriers to basic employment rights. Closures of non-essential services and countries falling into recession, has caused refugees to lose their jobs and therefore their daily income. Consequently, if refugees become infected with the virus, they may not be able to pay for adequate treatment. The recession caused by Covid-19 is expected to have a disproportionate effect on vulnerable people, with between 88 million and 115 million people being pushed into extreme poverty.
Studies also show that refugees and displaced people who are employed, are more likely than host country nationals to work in sectors most affected by Covid-19 such as hospitality, manufacturing, and retail. This means they are at greater risk of becoming infected with the virus.
Covid-19 can worsen refugees’ pre-existing mental health difficulties induced by the trauma of fleeing war, violence, persecution and discrimination. This may be due to severe monetary challenges, loneliness, and social isolation. Refugees often associate economic hardship with
threat to life, which can trigger traumatic responses.
Lockdowns and restrictions upon movement and community activities during the pandemic, as well as greater military presence on the streets in places like the US, may trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms amongst refugees. Having experienced repressive regimes and the intensified
use of government power previously in their home countries, restrictions may be perceived as a threat to personal freedom and security rather than a protective mechanism. Quarantine experiences may also trigger this response, as many refugees have previously experienced detention, forced imprisonment, and restrictions on movement. The fear of contracting Covid-19 on the other hand, may give rise to anxiety, depression, and stress related issues.
Access to Asylum
Although access to asylum is a human right, the partial or complete closure of country borders in an attempt to contain the virus has meant that many displaced people have been denied entry. Numerous countries have also not made exceptions for asylum seekers and so these people have been forced to return back to their home countries where they face danger and persecution. Many displaced people have also been left stranded or forced to stay in cramped, makeshift shelters or detention centres, with no access to healthcare facilities.
Access to Education
The closure of schools and support classes for vulnerable students all across the world has aggravated issues that existed prior to the pandemic. Before Covid-19, nearly half of the 7.4 million school-age refugee children were out of school. After a significant time out of school during the pandemic, children within refugee communities are at greater risk of dropping out.
Issues such as child-labour, gender-based violence, child marriage, and child pregnancy, are likely to increase dramatically, with girls being disproportionately affected.
Refugees and vulnerable people also face technology barriers that prevent them from accessing distance learning. As estimated by UNHCR in 2016, refugees are 50% less likely than the general population to have access to devices with internet capability such as laptops, tablets, and mobile
phones. As a result, these students have been unable to access education for a significant period of time whilst schools are closed.
Due to the severe economic impacts of Covid-19 on the refugee community, many people will not have the means to pay for resources and transportation to send their children to school in the future. This will lead to a further increase in the number of refugee children out of school.
By Asiyah Randera for Studenteer
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