Coronavirus outbreak

COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic, endangers everyone on the planet – including refugees and other people displaced by conflict or persecution.

UNHCR is stepping up health, water, sanitation and hygiene services to protect refugees and displaced people. We are working with governments, which lead the coronavirus response, to ensure that people forced to flee are included in preparation and response plans.

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203 countries

globally affected by COVID-19

96 refugee-hosting countries

reporting local transmission of COVID-19

71 million people

forcibly displaced around the world

Last updated 31 March 2020 


“If ever we needed reminding that we live in an interconnected world, the novel coronavirus has brought that home.”

These words, coming from UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, express what the world has been experiencing over the last months: the coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, knows no borders, no language barriers. It threatens everyone on this planet – including refugees, stateless people and other displaced people.

And it can only be tackled if we all, as one global community, work together and demonstrate solidarity.


We are helping refugees and internally displaced people in the fight against the coronavirus

We’ve scaled up our work to keep refugees and internally displaced people safe by responding to the coronavirus with life-saving support, including clean water, medical care and hygiene materials. We help monitor the spread of the outbreak and take action to limit infections. Wherever possible, we boost public health and hygiene in areas hosting displaced people, including airlifting emergency supplies and establishing isolation units.

We support communication efforts through existing and newly built community networks and offer guidance and fact-based information on prevention measures, such as handwashing, social distancing, isolation from infected people and where to access health-care services. We are also distributing shelter material and core relief items and are expanding cash assistance to help mitigate the negative socio-economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. We try to ensure that the rights and protection of forcibly displaced people are respected, including the right to seek asylum despite border closures. We work with partners on the ground to offer psychosocial counseling as well as measurements to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence.


UNHCR seeks US$255 million to respond to COVID-19 outbreak

Among the 25.9 million refugees globally, more than three quarters of whom live in developing countries in the Americas, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. With weak health systems, some of those countries are already facing humanitarian crises.

We are seeking US$255 million for the urgent push to curb the risk and lessen the impact of COVID-19 outbreaks in these vulnerable communities, as part of a wider UN Global Humanitarian Response Plan seeking US$2.01 billion.

“The worst of crises requires the best of humanity,” said the High Commissioner. “Now is the time for action. We can prevent the disease from spreading. With your support, we can save lives.”



The effect of the coronavirus outbreak on refugees

Although the number of reported and confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection among refugees remains low, over 80 per cent of the world’s refugee population and nearly all the internally displaced people live in low to middle-income countries, many of which have weaker health, water and sanitation systems and need urgent support.


They frequently face specific challenges and vulnerabilities that must be taken into consideration in COVID-19 readiness and response operations. Keeping the most vulnerable safe means keeping everyone safe.

Measures we are taking include:

  • Reinforcing the health and WASH systems and services, including by distributing soap and increasing access to water.
  • Supporting governments with infection prevention and health-care response, including through the provision of medical equipment and supplies.
  • Distributing shelter material and core relief items.
  • Offering guidance and fact-based information on prevention measures.
  • Expanding cash assistance to help mitigate the negative socio-economic impact of COVID-19.
  • Enhancing monitoring and interventions to ensure the rights of forcibly displaced people are respected.