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How are Asylum Seekers coping with the pandemic on World Refugee Day?

Refugees and migrants wearing masks wait to get on a bus after their arrival at the port of Piraeus on May 4, 2020. Greek authorities are moving 400 migrants to the mainland to help ease overcrowded conditions at the camp Moria in Lesbos island.


How are Asylum Seekers coping with the pandemic on World Refugee Day?


By Patryk Krych | The World Daily | JUNE 20th 2020


On world refugee day, it’s an appropriate time to take a step back and look away from the impacts of the COVID-19 coronavirus on economic and national stability, to consider what effects it’s been having on a more concentrated and vulnerable portion of the population – the portion trapped in tightly-knit migrant communities.

There have been many fears and speculations circulating about the spread of the pandemic disease in migrant and refugee detention/reception centres. An agency of the EU, called the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, have issued an infographic on the topic, which explains that there is no evidence to suggest that the transmission rate of the virus is higher among refugees. However, they also expressed that in refugee reception camps, the number of people at risk of exposure to the virus could be significantly heightened due to issues of overcrowding.

According to a recent report made by the United Nations Refugee Agency, the total number of people internally displaced or forced to seek asylum as refugees in the world has nearly doubled in the past decade, the amount now totalling almost 80 million. Due to the heated and arising conflicts in countries such as Syria, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya and Burkina Faso, a rise in 9 million people forced into being refugees has been noted in 2019, which has officially validated the statistic that a total of 1% of the world’s population are now internally displaced from their own homes.

“It’s not surprising that the numbers [of forcibly displaced people] are going up because the rate that people are becoming refugees is greater than the rate that they’re finding solutions,” said a researcher at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre, Jeff Crisp. “It doesn’t actually tell you much about the situation and the conditions of people, the protection problems they’re encountering, the growing resistance among countries to admit people, the growing tendency to push refugees back to their countries.”

More than half of people who’d been displaced, were displaced within their own countries, according to the UN’s studies. Crisp went on to call for further study regarding the internal displacement, expressing that this fact had much significance, and stating that “If you’re talking about increased numbers then you should also be talking about what are the responses to those increased numbers.”

“The numbers of internally displaced people are going up much and more quickly than refugees, which begs the question: why are people being displaced within their own countries rather than crossing borders, and … is it linked directly to countries increasing border controls?” he added.

The number of refugees that were able to return to their home countries during the past decade is only at 4 million, which is a declining number when compared with the 1.5 million who returned home every year in the 1990s, according to UNHCR’s global trends report.

“Forced displacement nowadays is not only vastly more widespread but is simply no longer a short-term and temporary phenomenon,” said Filippo Grandi of the UN high commissioner for refugees. “We need a fundamentally new and more accepting attitude towards all who flee, coupled with a much more determined drive to unlock conflicts that go on for years and that are at the root of such immense suffering.”

There is an increasingly urgent need to administer international cooperation and support to protect the rights of these far more vulnerable refugee groups, especially during the time of pandemic crisis, where resources are scarcely available worldwide. As such, a multifaceted method to help brace refugee holding camps all over the world for possible viral outbreaks is being utilised by the UNHCR.

“UNHCR has globally distributed 6.4 million masks, about 600 to 640 ventilators to high-priority countries and are setting up isolation facilities,” said H.R.H. Jaime de Bourbon de Parme, UNHCR's Senior Adviser for Private Sector Partnerships, at the moment of the session.

As a means to assist struggling refugee families, as well as individuals who are experiencing income loss due to the pandemic-enforced quarantine restrictions, cash assistance programs had also been set up. However, there is still much struggle for the refugees in holding camps. There have been struggles enough to provide emergency equipment for national citizens in their own countries who’ve caught the virus – the situation in many camps around the world is equally if not much more dire in this regard.

Heba Aly, Young Global Leader and Director of The New Humanitarian said “Hundreds of refugee-led organisations have the trust of their communities and are able to reach people in effective ways, but they don't have the support and the resources that they need.”

Both operational and logistical restrictions on immigration services around the globe had been created as a result of the pandemic crisis. New asylum claims can no longer be registered in countries such as Italy, where immigration offices have been reassigned with the onslaught of the pandemic for coronavirus-related duties. Italy was among the worst hit countries in terms of viral outbreak.

The ensuing widespread border closures, as well as increasing cases of temporary terminations of asylum claim administrations have ensured that it’s next to impossible for people fleeing conflict areas and countries to evacuate to safer place and seek asylum as refugees. The EU had even registered a surprising case of 43% fewer asylum instances in March when compared with February in 2020.

Due to these increasingly difficult circumstances, refugees and asylum seekers were unable to register a new status claim. This leads to them then becoming deprived of the most basic forms of health care, with no arrangements of any formal identification or registration documents.

The pandemic has also led to many nations enforcing anti-migrant policies. The suspension of reception of any new refugees and asylum seekers was announced in Uganda, which is known to host around 1.4 million refugees, all of which have primarily come from the Great Lakes region following hostilities and subsequent poverty.

“Inclusive and non-discriminatory national and international policies are very crucial to protect and improve the lives of refugees, while keeping in mind the need for refugees' participation in decision making processes,” said Zakaria Odowa of Kakuma Hub.


By Patryk Krych | © The World Daily 2020