Deprioritised in the health response: fragility of refugees in the Middle East and North Africa region during the COVID-19 pandemic
Jasmin Lilian Diab and Dana Nabulsi, American University of Beirut, Lebanon
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has experienced a massive influx of refugees and internally displaced persons over the last decade with Jordan and Lebanon currently home to the highest number of refugees per capita worldwide. In Jordan there are 657,000 UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees and in Lebanon there are 1.7 million refugees including 1.5 million from Syria – with unregistered migrants putting that number somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million refugees. A number of refugees live in heavily populated camps or impoverished regions with poorer health, water, sanitation and hygiene facilities making preventive measures in these areas and throughout these camps, such as regular access to water and basic sanitation and hygiene, social distancing and self-quarantine, very challenging to implement. As a result, the situation for refugees amid COVID-19 is exceptionally challenging in Jordan and Lebanon in terms of access to health services and opportunities to obtain legal work permits amid large-scale unemployment exacerbated by the pandemic. In conflict-ridden areas, where health systems are already fragile and medical resources are scarce, refugees lack adequate access to both detection mechanisms and necessary medical attention, rendering it almost impossible to assess the prevalence of the pandemic and track its spread. It is evident at this stage in the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic that it has rendered humanitarian and conflict-affected areas especially vulnerable and finding ways to integrate migrants and refugees, regardless of their formal/legal standing, in national development and rescue plans for tackling the virus is essential toward preventing the pandemic from spreading in refugee camps.
Mehr Mumtaz, Ohio State University, USA
COVID-19 has not affected all communities equally, and within the United States, racial and ethnic minority groups have been disproportionately affected by the virus. Reports indicate that immigrants and refugees, who constitute a large portion of the minority frontline workforce in healthcare, agriculture, and food supply chain industry, are at a higher risk of exposure to the virus. Although media and scholarship have hitherto focused on the public forms of marginalisation experienced by immigrant and refugee workers amidst the pandemic, such as their exclusion from healthcare coverage and financial relief measures, less attention has been paid to how the pandemic has reverberated along multiple dimensions of their private lives and domestic households. Within this group of people, refugee women face unique implications within complex systems of racial, cultural, national, religious, gender and class-based inequality in the country, and broader structures of gender inequality have especially exacerbated the vulnerability of refugee women and their families during the COVID-19 crisis. Refugee women in the United States typically work in client-facing low-wage jobs, which has threatened their paid employment due to closures of businesses in the country.
Mattias De Backer, Université de Liège, Belgium
This contribution is based on the testimonies of about 25 frontline workers who, despite the dangers associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, have continued to support vulnerable groups including: undocumented migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, young people in special youth care, homeless people, and overall, people in poverty. This research is part of a European, HERA-funded research project on 'The everyday experiences of young refugees and asylum-seekers in public space'.
Identities COVID-19 Blog Series
Explore expert commentaries curated by Identities on the dynamics between displaced migration and COVID-19.