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On World Refugee Day, as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens in many parts of the world, Action Against Hunger warns that refugee populations are particularly vulnerable to the virus and calls for their full inclusions in national health and socio-economic responses to COVID-19.
80% of the world’s refugee population lives in low- and middle-income countries, where health infrastructures are often less developed or less available. The consequences of countries’ containment measures can have devastating effects on access to humanitarian aid, food and basic necessities for poor families and marginalized communities.
“In the field, our teams around the world see how refugee camps or informal settlements are excluded from emergency aid or development policies, resulting in overcrowding and poor access to water,” explains Dr. Pierre Micheletti, President of Action Against Hunger.
In Lebanon, where more than 1.5 million Syrians have taken refuge since the beginning of the war in Syria in 2011, refugees have been spread between urban areas and informal refugee camps. The majority, especially the latter, are not connected to the public water network, leaving many refugee families with limited access to running water, and having to resort to using inadequate sanitation facilities. This situation makes it very difficult to have basic hygiene measures to be protected from the virus.
In addition, when they are not directly exposed to the disease in overcrowded camps or settlements where social distancing is not always possible, refugees are severely affected by the adverse effects of disease containment measures, which frequently hinder their access to food, basic necessities, and income opportunities.
In Colombia, which hosts 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants, Action Against Hunger teams found that 48% of the displaced populations had no source of income after confinement, compared to 4% before isolation measures were put in place.
The international response to the COVID-19 crisis must therefore be global and integrate all populations, including those forced to flee their homes. The elderly among displaced populations are particularly vulnerable.
"Les autorités nationales doivent traiter les réfugiés et les demandeurs d’asile de la même manière que les autres ressortissants face à la pandémie"
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 80 million people in the world have been displaced, forced to flee their country because of conflict, violence, persecution, economic and social inequalities or climate change.
Action Against Hunger, created in 1979, is an international non-governmental organization fighting against hunger in the world. Its mission is to save lives by eliminating hunger through the prevention, detection and treatment of undernutrition, particularly during and after emergencies related to conflicts and natural disasters.