The Americas' response to the COVID-19 crisis must encompass everyone, including those forced to flee and leave their homes and countries of origin.
The crisis that is being experienced globally, is also affecting countries in the Americas, where cases have been confirmed in 47 countries and territories in the Region. Other countries in the Region have carried out tests of suspected cases, and governments are allocating funds to slow down the outbreak.1 Furthermore, governments across the Region have taken restrictive measures on domestic travel,2 as well as international travel between countries, border closures and preventive curfews.
The potential impact that the global spread of coronavirus could have on refugees and vulnerable migrants, as well as on internally displaced persons (IDPs), may further affect this populations. At this time, we must pay more attention to how the pandemic could affect displaced and marginalized populations, and work collectively to find solutions to contain the outbreak and ensure the dignity and protection of migrants.
The biggest challenge for an effective response to Coronavirus lies on public health systems being weak or overwhelmed, as a result of the emergency or other situations prior to the current outbreak.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of March 10, 2020, more than 100 countries have confirmed the local transmission of COVID-19. Of these, 34 countries have refugee populations of more than 20,000 people, who are currently not affected by the virus.3 In those contexts, prevention, preparation, and communication are essential. This is because migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons often find themselves in places that are overcrowded or where public health and other services are already overwhelmed or under-resourced.
Refugees and migrants in the Region are especially vulnerable to coronavirus and other diseases due to high geographic mobility, instability, informal or precarious income,4 overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and lack of access to decent health care or vaccination programmes, among others.
Furthermore, considering the border closure measures that many countries are taking to prevent the outbreak of the virus, it is expected that people in vulnerable situations will be especially affected.
This includes migrants, who often travel by informal roads, facing associated difficulties, risks and protection issues. Others will express the will to return to their homes and countries of origin. In host countries, where there are already feelings of xenophobia and discrimination towards people under situations of human mobility, an increase in these episodes and in the exclusion of the population is expected with the spread of the virus. Indeed, refugees and migrants are often the first to be stigmatized and, eventually, unfairly blamed for the spread of diseases.
For example, in the case of Venezuelan migrants, Joel Millman, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, states that migrants will be greatly affected by the closure of the land border with Colombia, a measure taken by that government this week in response to COVID-19. This statement also applies to all border situations.5 In this changing context, it is important that, while heeding security and protection measures, people in vulnerable situations continue being supported, so asto ensure their rights and protect their dignity.
Red Cross actions will be reduced. The following is an update on the activities and measures taken by countries and National Societies within the framework of the Regional Emergency Appeal on Population Movement operation.