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By Kristy Siegfried | 1 April, 2020


Protect rights and health of refugees and migrants in coronavirus response, says UN. Four UN agencies – OHCHR, IOM, WHO and UNHCR – on Tuesday called for national responses to COVID-19 to include migrants, refugees, the forcibly displaced and stateless people. “To avert a catastrophe, governments must do all they can to protect the rights and the health of everyone,” says the joint statement, which notes that migrants and refugees are vulnerable to exclusion, stigma and discrimination, particularly when undocumented. The statement highlights the “worrying” situation of refugees and migrants held in detention and calls for their release “without delay”. It also calls on countries to manage border restrictions in a manner that respects international human rights and refugee protection standards through the use of quarantine and health checks. “We cannot allow fear or intolerance to undermine rights or compromise the effectiveness of responses to the global pandemic,” concludes the statement. Launching a new plan to counter the potentially devastating socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the pandemic as “the greatest test” the world has faced since the formation of the UN. The plan urges developed countries to help the less developed to bolster their health systems and calls for a focus on the most vulnerable both during the emergency and recovery stages.

Venezuelans struggle to get by during Colombia’s lockdown. Colombia has shut down all non-essential businesses and imposed a quarantine through 13 April. For the country’s 1.8 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants, many of whom live hand-to-mouth selling food and other items on the street, the impact has been devastating, reports the Miami Herald. Not only has the coronavirus deprived them of an income, it has also shuttered many of the organizations they relied on, such as soup kitchens and shelters. While Colombia and other countries in the region are rolling out financial aid programmes to help their most vulnerable citizens during the lockdown, those benefits don’t extend to migrants. Colombia has declared a moratorium on evictions during the health emergency, but one NGO told the Miami Herald they were tracking at least 50 Venezuelan families who had been thrown out of their homes for not paying rent. In a statement today, UNHCR and IOM said there was an urgent need for more funding to support Venezuelan refugees and migrants, whose already desperate situation is being compounded by the pandemic. “As national capacities become stretched to a breaking point, the wellbeing and safety of Venezuelans and their host communities is at risk,” warns the statement.


Fears “invisible” stateless could be denied help if they get coronavirus. Reuters reports on concerns that millions of stateless people worldwide would be unable to access health care if they fall ill with the coronavirus because they have no nationality and lack documentation. Campaigners are calling on countries to ensure all stateless people can receive medical assistance and help to self-isolate without risk of arrest or detention. “Governments must include everyone, because no one is protected unless everyone is protected,” said Melanie Khanna, head of UNHCR’s statelessness section. According to Reuters, Malaysia, which has a significant stateless population and is battling the largest COVID-19 outbreak in South East Asia, has said it will not arrest undocumented people who come forward for testing. The UN wants other countries to take similar steps.

NGO restarts Mediterranean rescue missions despite virus fears. The Alan Kurdi rescue boat is heading back to the Central Mediterranean for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic started. The Germany charity Sea Eye, which operates the boat, said the Alan Kurdi expected to reach waters off the coast of Libya by the weekend and would be the only NGO rescue boat operating in the area. Italy placed two other rescue vessels – the Ocean Viking and the Sea Watch 3 – in quarantine last month. The Sea Eye said it had an “outbreak management plan” and had stocked the ship with sufficient personal protective equipment. The charity said it expected to face difficulties finding a safe harbour following any rescues.

EU boosts aid to support Syrian refugees and host countries during pandemic. The European Union announced a new package of almost €240 million on Tuesday to help Syrian refugees and host communities in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq withstand the coronavirus outbreak. The funding focuses in particular on areas such as social assistance, health, education and child protection. More than half of it will go towards establishing social safety nets and strengthening the public education system in Lebanon. The money brings the EU’s overall aid to Syrian refugees in the region to more than €2 billion, according to a statement from the European Commission. The amount does not include funds for Turkey, which are allocated through a separate budget. UNHCR is appealing for US$255 million to fund its efforts to respond to the risk and impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.


Venezuelan medic Samuel Suárez has been making house calls in the rural region of Ecuador where he now lives to help his vulnerable older patients protect themselves from the coronavirus. Armed with a poster and flyers, he acts out the recommendations for those who can’t read. “Throughout the coronavirus epidemic, I will continue to fight each and every day to share my knowledge,” he said.


So far, a US$1.3 billion regional response plan to help Venezuelan refugees and migrants in 2020 is only three per cent funded.