by Divya Vishal 5 October 2020
Wellbeing and security are everybody’s needs today as Covid-19’s uncommon effect keeps on developing every day. According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees are, “any person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or unwilling to avail protection of that country.” As per United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 70.8 million people have been coercively displaced all around the world as a result of abuse, strife, exploitation, or human rights infringement in 2018. Most of the refugees are from Somalia, Syria, Myanmar, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and other African countries. The refugee problem is one of the major issues the world is facing. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads worldwide, human rights associations are cautioning of the lopsided effect the coronavirus will have on the world’s most helpless populaces i.e. refugees. According to experts this impact of COVID 19 on the economy is even worse than the Great Financial Crisis that the world faced in 2007–2008.
Camps for refugees are mostly situated in remote regions with constrained medical services. Normally, there aren’t any medical clinics in displaced person camps. Some larger camps do have them, however, not many of them will have ventilators or ICUs. Following social distancing is not easy in packed camps and urban settings i.e. highly dense, where individuals live next to each other in little blocked homes with many members in the family. Queueing for water and food develops the dangers of getting infected easily. These refugees are already facing problems availing basic necessities of life. There are inadequate facilities for sanitation, washing, and disinfection in these refugee camps. Moreover, there is a lack of basic equipment for the prevention of virus-like sanitizer, masks, hand gloves, face shields, soaps, and other disinfectants.
The pandemic has brought a huge decline in the world’s economy. Countries are cutting interest rates and revising their expenditures and might have to cut donations to different programs run by the United Nations. There is a sharp decrease in economic activities ranging from a decline in restaurant and hotel bookings, air travel, fuel consumption, retail sector, and even the media industry. This will lead to an economic crisis and affect the donations made by the countries in different welfare programs. The refugee camps come under the domain of UNHCR. The funding system of UNHCR is entirely dependent on voluntary donations from different rich governments across the globe. Therefore, there is a high probability of drop-in funds by these countries.
As we know that to date there is no cure developed by the scientists for the coronavirus. The only way to battle the virus is to keep our immunity strong so that there are fewer chances of getting infected. The refugee population is more likely to suffer from acute malnutrition due to the unhealthy conditions they live in. Refugee children arrive in the US from countries with a high burden of undernutrition, infectious disease, and poverty. The UNHCR recognizes malnutrition as a physiological condition and a human rights issue. Such displaced people are open to various problems like a higher degree of food insecurity, environmental threats, overcrowded rooms, unhygienic ways of sanitation, diseases like anemia, cholera, measles that converts into an outbreak in such camps within a short span of time. Thus, such a vulnerable populace is at a high risk of getting infected by viruses and it’s spread among their community.
There are various instances of the spread of the virus among refugees like the virus has spread to Palestine refugee areas in Lebanon. The first case of coronavirus has been recorded in Ethiopian refugee camps on 13th March 2020. There have been covid19 cases in the Greek detention centers. There have additionally been instances of COVID-19 among migrants and refugees in U.S. confinement centers. In Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee camp, the rate of coronavirus cases is increasing with time. Many cases have been recorded in Rohingyan camps. These refugees are considered as the “high-risk group” when it comes to an outbreak of disease or virus in the world.
The worst economic impact that such vulnerable groups are facing is the problem of unemployment and poverty in the times of pandemic. The problem persisted before the pandemic as well but it has become harder since the outbreak of viruses. The effect of COVID-19 is worsening the helplessness of the 25.9 million displaced people worldwide. As 2020 has become a shutdown year for customary organizations and the global market, the occupations of millions are in peril since many depend on their daily wages or income for livelihood. The dominant part of such populace is working in labor work or the informal sector. Even their savings get exhausted with no incoming source of earning money. Losing their employment implies decreasing income options for their livelihood, at last prompting increasingly negative methods for dealing with stress, for example, depending on youngsters to give a salary, or curtailing fundamental needs, for example, food and milk. “Life has never been harder than since the coronavirus crisis,” says Ali Mohammed Adam, a 32-year-old from Somalia who used to hand wash cars on the streets for a living. He has lost his job during the pandemic. “If you ask about masks and sanitizers here, people will talk about food, which is their top need” Haji Abdullah, a leader of Afghan refugees, told. While the whole world is dealing with the issue of survival, these refugees are facing another crisis of livelihood during the pandemic. The current circumstance requiring the distancing of people and a complete suspension of unnecessary services in numerous hotspots has resulted in many refugees with no basic facilities. Dealing with high stress often leads to the suppression of one’s immune system, therefore making them even more susceptible to succumb to such an illness.
There is a principle in International Law called the principle of non-refoulment. According to this principle, no mistreated refugee must be departed to any nation where they are at risk to confront abuse and torment by not allowing them to enter the domain of the country or refusing them at borders. With overall bans on travel being forced to shorten the spread of coronavirus, numerous nations have closed their borders and are not permitting the section of non-nationals and sometimes, even nationals once more into their domain until they have undergone the phase of quarantine to contain the spread of the virus. Bans on travel have made the mobility of refugees a more problematic task than before. Numerous nations have reported plans to banish refugees from entering their regions, referring to concerns of COVID 19. This move not only violates international law but also compels the refugees to get back to the place where they had to face brutality. The United States as of late gave limitations at the Mexican and Canadian borders that permit border authorities to deny access to anybody without legitimate approval to be in the nation, including those recently held in US detainment centers. In March 2020 the UNHCR approached countries to maintain this rule, expressing that countries can execute wellbeing or screening measures, yet that forbidding refugees without proof of being infected or risks of health is prejudicial and unlawful under international law.
Another problem faced by many Rohingyas in the camps at Cox Bazar, Bangladesh was the internet shutdown by the government during the virus outbreak. For about a half year, a government-ordered shutdown that has denied web and telephone access to the Rohingya refugees in camps, leaving inhabitants scrambling for data about how to shield themselves from the virus. Without access to the internet or the network, it is for all intents and purposes unthinkable for those living in the Cox’s Bazaar camps to discover precise data about Covid-19 and how to forestall and react to it, and bits of gossip and fake data about the infection are widespread. Social workers who depend essentially on WhatsApp to organize emergency facilities and offer significant data to camp occupants currently should depend rather on handouts and loudspeakers. Moreover, the shutdown likewise prevents the capacity to remotely “contact follow” as methods for controlling transmission of the infection. According to refugee technologist and researcher, Ahmad Sufian Bayram, “refugees are 50% less likely than the general population to have an internet-connected mobile phone. While 20% of rural refugees have no access to connectivity, urban refugees often have access but cannot afford to get online.”
Many issues as described above, make the 30 million worldwide refugee populace especially helpless against the effects of Covid-19. On 25 March 2020, UNHCR appealed for financing to help its plan to deal with a crisis during the pandemic to support readiness, avoidance, and reaction intending to address the needs of refugees influenced by the spread of COVID-19. This intrigue is a piece of a more extensive United Nations COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan looking for USD2.01 billion for funding of refugees at the time of crisis. The World Health Organization distributed Interim guidelines or directions for displaced person’s wellbeing corresponding to COVID-19. Generally, this direction is expected to be used by national wellbeing specialists to manage activities taken by doctors and the medical team for displaced people with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many countries have tried to aid the refugee settlements in various places. In Bangladesh, the staff has got the training to prevent contamination of viruses to aid the Rohingya displaced person camps, where they are living in poor conditions. Extra measures have like access to sanitizer and clean water, creating data materials in Burmese and Bengali dialects for positive instances of COVID-19. In Iran, the UN Refugee Agency transported medical equipment by airlifting them, including face veils, gloves, and fundamental prescriptions to helping address basic deficiencies in the medicinal services framework. In a joint effort with the government, UNHCR has additionally conveyed basic thongs for things like sanitizer and dispensable paper towels to refugees. In Jordan, temperature screening is being led at the entrance of the Za’atari and Azraq displaced person camps and grocery stores are open for extra hours to encourage social distancing. Power arrangement has been improved and fundamental cleanliness things -, for example, diapers and sterile materials-have been appropriated. In Iraq, UNHCR is getting defensive and clinical gear for refugees including masks, dispensable shoes, gloves, and clinical outfits. In Ethiopia and Uganda, handwashing and temperature screening offices are set up at refugee travel centers and health offices. UNHCR’s preventive measures incorporate staff training, distribution of disinfectants, and awareness campaigns in most of the displaced person camps. In Greece, the UN Refugee Agency is working with nearby specialists to expand water and sanitation facilities and encourage access to data over the Aegean islands; where there are many evacuees are living in packed conditions. UNHCR likewise settled clinical units and spaces for screening, confinement, and isolation. In Mexico, UNHCR has additionally settled isolation centers and has distinguished various displaced person doctors, medical attendants, paramedics, and other human services experts who can be prepared to react to the current pandemic situation. In excess of 30 telephone lines have been introduced in Colombia to give data to Venezuelans on their security, rights, and data about their wellbeing. The UN Refugee Agency has additionally joined cleanliness measures and hand washing centers in nearby gathering places to help helpless Venezuelan families. In Brazil, UNHCR is working with the government to set up an isolation zone in Boa Vista to have cases detected with coronavirus and appropriated 1,000 cleanliness kits to the vulnerable refugee population. The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, have signed a new agreement to strengthen and advance public health services for the millions of forcibly displaced people around the world.
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General said that the pandemic will lead us to think again about how we are helping and contributing towards the most sensitive group i.e. refugees, migrants as well as asylum seekers. He said that “No country can fight the pandemic or manage migration alone. But together, we can contain the spread of the virus, buffer its impact on the most vulnerable and recover better for the benefit of all”, he said in a video message accompanying the launch.” Therefore, when the world winds up at a crossroads where the priority is given to the protection of the nation over human rights, authorities should look into the matter. With countries rethinking their situations on “reviving” their economy and making the country functional by unlocking the lockdown, they should additionally concentrate on reexamining their transitory refuge bans so as to give a reasonable position on their situation as for global law.