We have all been touched by the Covid-19 pandemic in some way – but the impacts have been far from equal. Early evidence shows that low-paid workers and people from ethnic minority backgrounds are among those who are disproportionately affected by the virus. And its creeping spread to even more vulnerable parts of the world, such as refugee camps, should be a concern for us all.
Refugees and asylum seekers have largely been forgotten in the Covid-19 conversation. No state directly defends their interests. Many are already being hosted in precarious conditions where cholera still claims lives. As cases of coronavirus emerge in densely populated refugee camps in Bangladesh and Lebanon, this pandemic risks becoming a “crisis on top of a crisis” according to UNHCR UK country lead, Rosella Pagliuchi-Lor.
A multitude of factors, outlined below, make the 30 million global refugee population particularly vulnerable to the impacts of Covid-19. And in our interconnected world, “coronavirus anywhere is a threat to people everywhere.”
1. Social Distancing Is Not An Option
A third of all refugees worldwide live in camps, some of the most densely populated places on earth. In Cox’s Bazar, home to around one million Rohingya refugees, ten people can live in the same tiny shelter (picture). Those who live outside of camps also often live in cramped conditions. “Refugees do not have the luxury of social distancing,” explains Bob Kitchen, who leads the International Rescue Committee’s Covid-19 response.
2. Shortages Of Food, Not Toilet Paper
Shortages of household goods, which have at times bemused countries so far gripped by the pandemic, take a harder meaning in a humanitarian context. Food rations to 1.4 million refugees living in Uganda have been cut since a lockdown was imposed in the world’s 3rd largest refugee host country, resulting in farms and businesses shutting down. “The food given to the refugees is not enough following the reduction in the monthly food ration,” explains Sebit Martin, a community leader at a refugee settlement in Uganda. “This has caused stress and fear among the refugees as they think of their survival.”
3. Deprived Of Healthcare And Hygiene
Today, even the world’s most developed countries are battling for limited healthcare resources. In comparison, basic amenities like soap and clean running water are hard to come by in refugee camps. 80% of refugees live in countries where access to sanitation is limited, making them even more likely to contract and spread the illness. Should they get sick, refugees must contend with insufficient access to healthcare.
4. Left Behind By The Digital Divide
In a pandemic, poverty becomes even more deadly. As more of our lives and work move online, refugees risk being left out of the game.
Originally posted on Forbes