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Lessons from Global Settlements During the Pandemic: Recognizing the 70th Anniversary of the Refugee Convention

July 28, 2021

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020, disastrous consequences were feared for refugees residing in overcrowded camps. These living quarters make social distancing impossible, in addition to low or non-availability of basic items to maintain sanitization and personal protection. However, agencies acted quickly and redirected their emergency programming to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Owing to the dedicated service of frontline workers, medical teams, volunteers, and refugees themselves, hundreds of thousands of lives were saved.

The Global Alliance’s Migrants and Displaced Persons Task Force sought perspectives of those on the front lines of some of the most crowded refugee camps. Informal interviews were conducted during March through June 2020. Providers from camps in Nigeria, Greece, Jordan, Cox’s Bazaar (Bangladesh), and South Sudan were asked to describe: (1) the context of their location; (2) unique challenges in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic; and (3) resulting collaborations.

There was an unanimous concern among providers for the lack of resources including medical and protective equipment for refugees and service providers in addition to the existing scarcity of basic resources such as personnel and infrastructure. Providers acknowledged working long hours to provide the necessary services for refugees, putting themselves at risk of mental and emotional exhaustion in addition to possible exposure to the virus. Providers also reported that refugees formed community alliances to help with cooking, distribution of goods, and social support and exemplified self-help in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Navigating these intricacies was an immense undertaking which was made possible due to the dedication of frontline workers as well as local refugees and communities.

As we honor the courage of refugees worldwide and all those who work tirelessly to assist them in a myriad of settings, we bring attention to the lack of global access to COVID-19 vaccines for refugee and displaced populations who remain marginalized in the countries and camps where they are housed. Consistent with the Refugee Convention, barriers to vaccine access in policy and practice must be dismantled with coordinated and comprehensive global solidarity.  Action to end the global inequality in vaccine distribution and access for refugees and displaced populations must be prioritized by all.

This blog post was written by Global Alliance member, Erum Agha, for the Migrants and Displaced Persons Task Force, and does not necessarily represent the policy position for the Global Alliance. 

The Global Alliance’s Migrants and Displaced Persons Task Force focuses on addressing structural inequities that are experienced by refugees and other people displaced due to violence, persecution, economic instability, food insecurity and climate change. The Task Force also seeks to highlight the important role that individuals, communities, and organizations can play in promoting the mental health and well-being of migrants and displaced persons through local mobilization and efforts in policy, practice and research at multiple levels.

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