Since the consequential outbreak of the novel coronavirus outbreak in early 2020, the world fell into a series of panic from the virus’s contagious nature. In modern and developed societies, with a click of a button, the world made a virtual switch, changing people’s everyday lives. Restaurants shut their doors. People lost their jobs. Children’s education was reduced to a mere screen.
On the opposite side of the socioeconomic spectrum, of the 30 million displaced people, nearly 90% of refugees are finding homes in developing countries, most of which lack fundamental services, both while in a pandemic or not. To many people’s surprise and neglect, many of the largest refugee camps have managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic.
Until recently, refugee camps had lower infection statistics than expected. The isolated nature of refugee camps worked to contain any infections within vicinal communities and prevent spread to others.
Though refugees were spared of the virus’s risky health effects, they were not pardoned from the global economic recession following the pandemic. The cuts in humanitarian funding and refugee camps led to food shortages, reduced employment, more displaced families, and restricted travel. Bill Frelick, the director of the Human Rights Watch’s refugee and migrant rights division, warned that the pandemic should not give way for governments to excuse their neglect for refugees, people who have never been more desperate to find a home.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that of 30 million refugees, 21,000 have tested positive over 97 countries. The recent sudden spike of cases in September 2020 is correlated with how desperate the world is to open its doors again return to somewhat of a semblance of normalcy. Observable from other countries’ failed attempts and the dire consequences, many parts of the world are far from reopening. Experts claim a future virus spread to camps would be uncontainable. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) stated that 34 of the developing countries could reach 1 billion infections and 3.2 million deaths.
Now, refugees are allowed to leave the camp solely for work, though Ammar Zayyad, the county director of CARE in Jordan, said “so far, we have kept the virus in check but we need to test, track and trace in order to reduce the risk of further spread.”
Syria, a country and home to approximately 750,000 refugees, set one of the strictest regulations for quarantine compared to other countries. The government shut down all their airports and arrested citizens who broke the quarantine laws; as a result, case numbers were reduced. Other nearby countries followed a similar example as well, in efforts of limiting spread.
Statistics from the UNHCR showed that a large majority of refugees are 18 or even younger, putting a large population under the protected age range of the virus. Whether the cases were asymptomatic or simply ignored, scientists can never know especially with refugee camps having less than 1% of the population being tested. The numbers for tested people will decrease due to the fund cuts and also as testing isn’t widely available.
As the virus continues to haunt the world, experts are warning people that we must do everything we can to weaken the impact of the upcoming, inevitable winter wave. From following standard protocols–wearing a mask, washing hands often, and quarantining–to the more government tracking and testing, any preventive measure can help. Dr. Saad Hammadi, a South Asia Campaigner for Amnesty International, said that “catching cases early is important to avoid larger outbreaks.”
In comparison to more developed cities which are able to establish regulations easily, refugee camps face a struggle with social distancing due to the cramped natures of the refugees’ lives pre-covid. Overcrowding, as a result, is dangerous because of how contagious the virus is. Sources said an essential fix to this problem is building many more facilities to safely house and separate refugees to prevent contamination. Experts are also pushing for more efficient processing of asylum to decrease the number of refugees staying in camps. However, both solutions are unperformed from the lack of funds. Many humanitarian organizations such as the UNHCR are welcoming donations to combat these crises.
Today, another consequence of this dire pandemic is revealed, one of the countless reasons we must do everything to stop COVID-19.