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COVID-19 deepens threats for displaced women and children

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Data points to negative impacts of COVID-19 for forcibly displaced women and children

A new data visualization shows how the pandemic has deepened the risks of violence and abuse for displaced women and children.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a damaging impact on the lives of millions of refugees and internally displaced people, but the consequences for displaced women and children have been particularly devastating – from a heightened risk of domestic and sexual violence to an increase in child marriages.

A new data visualization – ‘COVID-19 deepens threats for displaced women and children’ – is the fourth in a series examining how the COVID-19 crisis has worsened conditions for displaced communities. It presents data from humanitarian operations around the world that shows how deteriorating socio-economic conditions, lockdowns and school closures have threatened the safety and well-being of displaced women and children.

UNHCR, together with other UN agencies and NGOs, raised the alarm about the potentially catastrophic consequences of COVID-19 for refugee and displaced women and girls early on in the outbreak. There is now data that backs up some of those early fears. For example, 89 per cent of operations that fall under the Global Protection Cluster - a UNHCR-led network of NGOs and UN agencies providing protection in internal displacement situations - noted at the end of last year that gender-based violence was a severe or extreme risk.

Other data suggests the degree that COVID-19 has disrupted the childhoods of refugee and internally displaced children, endangering their health and safety, as well as their future prospects. The number of UNHCR operations reporting abuse of displaced children by caregivers more than doubled in 2020 while reports of more displaced families resorting to forcing their children into marriage have also increased, as have separations of children from their parents and the proportion of asylum claims filed by unaccompanied children.

Despite the increased risks of violence against displaced women and children during the pandemic, programmes to protect them and support survivors of violence and abuse remain severely underfunded. Meanwhile, concerns about COVID infection and movement restrictions have forced UNHCR to adapt many of its gender-based violence and child protection programmes. In many locations, this has involved a shift to online support and tele-counselling. It has also shed considerable light on the central role played by refugee volunteers and community workers, in particular women.

“Over a year into the crisis, it is clear that COVID-19 has rolled back years of incremental gender equality and child protection gains and will continue to impact displaced women and children well into the future. Action is needed now to mitigate those impacts,” said Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs.