Refugees disproportionately exposed to COVID impact

A Rohingya refugee family sit in the doorway of their new monsoon-ready shelter in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: UNHCR

Everyone has a duty to help refugees rebuild their lives after a particularly difficult year for so many – that’s the message from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, to mark World Refugee Day on 20 June.

In an appeal for greater empathy for all those who’ve had to flee conflict, climate shocks, and harassment, through no fault of their own, Mr. Guterres, who has just been re-appointed for a second term, said that the pandemic had wiped out refugees’ livelihoods, and led to stigmatization and vilification.

Refugees had also been exposed disproportionately to the virus, the UN chief insisted, adding that once again, they had demonstrated their invaluable contribution to their host communities as essential and frontline workers. “We have a duty to help refugees rebuild their lives”, he said. “COVID-19 has shown us that we can only succeed if we stand together.”

Mr. Guterres, who spent ten years as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, before taking up his current position, called on communities and governments to do more to include refugees, in health care, education and sport, and to move together towards a more inclusive future, free of discrimination.

The Secretary-General expressed his admiration for refugees and displaced persons, for their courage, resilience, and for “what they have taught us all about the power of hope and healing.”

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, the number of people in need of international protection rose last year to nearly 82.4 million people. This is a four per cent increase on top of the already record-high of 79.5 million, recorded at the end of 2019.

The refugee agency’s flagship Global Trends Report, revealed on Friday that, far from slowing forced displacement around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic may well have been partly responsible for the record levels of people fleeing war, violence, and human rights violations.