Since its outbreak in mid-January 2020, COVID-19 has significantly impacted on all sectors of Thai society, including refugees and asylum-seekers. In the urban context, UNHCR has continuously been working with a range of partners to ensure that the protection needs of refugees and asylum-seekers are met and thereby support the Royal Thai Government (RTG) in its ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, having observed increased levels of vulnerability relating to restrictions on movement, loss of livelihood opportunities and access to healthcare, these organizations, led by UNHCR, carried out an initial multi-sectoral Rapid Needs Assessment (RNA) to strengthen understanding of the situation of this oftentimes hidden population and provide a stronger evidence base from which to design protection and programme interventions. Additionally, to ensure the effectiveness of UNHCR’s multi-purpose cash-based interventions (CBI) framework for urban refugees in Thailand, a Post-distribution Monitoring (PDM) exercise was conducted simultaneously with the RNA to support assessment of the impact of CBI for urban refugees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Key findings of the earlier RNA and PDM exercise included the majority of respondents reporting being unable to approach health facilities for treatment, send their children to school, access employment or meet at least half of their basic needs. Of particular concern was the majority of CBI recipients reporting significant challenges in meeting basic needs despite the assistance received from UNHCR, which prompted UNHCR to undertake a review of the level of cash support provided to beneficiaries, resulting in a 20% increase to the transfer value of CBI support for vulnerable urban refugees.
In order to gauge the longer-term impact of the pandemic on the urban refugee and asylum-seeker population and identify ways of targeting and delivering support more effectively, UNHCR commenced and collected data for this, its second, Needs Assessment and PDM exercise in November 2020. The findings indicate that the majority of protection gaps and needs identified in the earlier RNA/PDM remain. Despite the relaxation of COVID-19 measures by the RTG since the earlier exercise was conducted, including the re-opening of venues, businesses and schools, the pandemic continues to have a significant socio-economic impact on urban refugees and asylum-seekers, exacerbated by their lack of legal status and ongoing lack of informal livelihood opportunities. The current Needs Assessment and PDM evidences a continued inability to meet basic needs and access key services. This is exemplified through a range of findings, including: one third of respondents with school-aged children reporting that their children were still not attending school, primarily due to financial constraints; a high proportion of respondents reporting being unable to approach health facilities for treatment, again largely due to financial reasons; and more than half of respondents unable to afford even half of their basic needs.
These and other findings are outlined in the body of this report. Where relevant, comparison is made to findings from the previous RNA/PDM. Further, observations are made regarding the data received for different groups of urban refugees and asylumseekers, and for CBI beneficiaries as compared to those not in receipt of CBI support.
These latest findings inform a series of proposed recommendations to strengthen the continued efforts by UNHCR, other UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the RTG to deliver support to refugees and asylum-seekers while the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt. At the same time, considerable effort should be made to allow urban refugees and asylum-seekers access to livelihood opportunities to facilitate self-reliance.
Moreover, a spike in new COVID-19 infections in Thailand during December 2020 resulting in the reintroduction of restrictive several measures in many areas of the country, serves to highlight the ongoing likely serious impact on urban refugees and asylumseekers. Regular monitoring of what is a precarious and evolving situation is required alongside efforts to ensure the well-being of this highly vulnerable population.