hazra1_Milos BicanskiGetty Images_women refugees Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

Refugees Are Essential to the COVID-19 Response

To build a better world, every action counts. When it comes to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, those actions must include a broad global commitment to ensuring that all people – including refugees – are protected.

CAMBRIDGE – Last month, for World Refugee Day, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) launched its Every Action Counts campaign, to emphasize that all contributions to creating a more just and inclusive world make a difference. Everyone, including refugees, can have a powerful impact on society. But as we celebrate refugees’ courage and contributions – including in the fight for racial justice and on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic – we should also recognize the challenges they face and offer them the protections they deserve.

Consider, for example, that the most effective interventions to protect against COVID-19 – frequent hand washing, adherence to social-distancing guidelines, and wearing a mask – often are unavailable to refugees. Many of the world’s 79.5 million forcibly displaced individuals – 1% of humanity – lack access to clean water or soap, let alone health care. They often live in cramped tents in overcrowded camps. An entire family may share a single mask.

This puts refugees at heightened risk of contracting – and dying from – the virus. In one hotel in southern Greece, 148 asylum seekers tested positive for COVID-19. In Singapore, 93% of COVID-19 cases occurred in dorms housing migrant workers. In Bangladesh, where refugee camps are full of Rohingya – an estimated 730,000 have fled neighboring Myanmar’s brutal military crackdown since 2017 – a single COVID-19 patient could lead to 2,040-2,090 deaths. The risks are compounded by natural disasters like Cyclone Amphan, which struck Bangladesh (and eastern India) in May.

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