The world refugees must also be shielded from Covid

Synopsis: There is a need to include refugees and provide them basic health care facilities, including vaccines, to the countries welfare programmes.


There are approximately 82.4mn forcibly displaced people in the world. With the recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and other countries, their count has been increased to 11.2 mn more during the pandemic.

Approx 70% of these people are living in extreme conditions with no economic, social, legal security. Covid pandemic further shows us the vulnerability of these refugees.

What are the problems faced by the refugees during the pandemic?

Lack of resources: Refugee children are often unimmunized and have poor access to basic healthcare facilities. Refugee camps are often over-occupied. With the lack of documentation procedure and other necessary requirements, their risk of having Covid is twice compared to other people.

Vaccine inequities: There is huge vaccine inequity between high and low-income countries. There is a vaccine hoarding of 79% in HIC, while only 2.3% in LIC. Countries with the highest refugees and asylum populations are even struggling to provide the 1st dose of vaccine to their own people.

Identity proof: Refugees, mostly does not have any identification, proof as they fled from their countries. During the pandemic, many countries vaccinated programmes mostly used digital systems which are linked to some proof of identity. For example, the UK allows refugees to access vaccines through its National Health Service but excludes those who fail to provide identification.

Demand Issues: In many countries, refugees fear to register for jabs because of their illegal migrant status and fear of being deported back.

Misinformation: According to World Vision Survey, 47% of global refugees thought they were ineligible or unaware of the vaccine programmes. UN High Commissioner for refugees also highlighted that vaccine hesitancy persists on account of misinformation, cultural and linguistic barriers.

What countries did to exclude or include refugees in welfare programmes?

Among the 70% of 104 vaccination plans reviewed by WHO,  excluded migrants including refugees and asylum seekers. Other plans also left 11.8 mn internally displaced people. Most of the countries also closed their borders and adopt harsh policies to keep out the refugees.

But few Countries supported the refugees during the pandemic. For instance, some Latin American countries supported refugees under their immunization programmes. For Ex, Columbia has offered 10-year temporary protection status to Venezuelan refugees. Portugal also granted temporary full citizen rights to asylum seekers for providing them basic health care facilities including vaccines.

What is the way forward?

Ensuring universal vaccine access is not a problem of the health sector alone, as many structural issues create inequality. The world needs to prioritize human rights and the right to health as a matter of policy so that everyone including refugees and migrants feels safe.

Source: This post is based on the article “The world refugees must also be shielded from Covid” published in Livemint on 19th October 2021.

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