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Reducing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on internally displaced people (IDPs)

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The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the Movement) has been actively working to meet the public health and humanitarian needs of the many communities around the world affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic is a global challenge, certain groups are particularly vulnerable to both the disease and its secondary impact. The Movement is committed to ensuring that they are not left out of public prevention and response activities.

Internally displaced people are among those likely to be particularly affected by the pandemic, owing to their circumstances. Pursuant to the 2019 Council of Delegates Resolution 7, “Strengthening implementation of the Movement Policy on Internal Displacement”, all components of the Movement, in line with their respective mandates, will seek to ensure a holistic response to COVID-19 that considers the needs and vulnerabilities of internally displaced people:

  • Internally displaced people are more at risk of contracting COVID-19 and are more susceptible to complications, owing to cramped living conditions in camps, camp-like settings and urban slums; poor nutritional and health status; limited access to sanitation, health care and reliable information; lack of support networks; and language barriers and other social and cultural obstacles.

  • Many internally displaced people will be disproportionately affected by the economic repercussions of lockdown measures, given their already precarious circumstances and heavy dependence on casual labour and/or external support (from host communities, authorities and humanitarian organizations) to meet their basic needs. As such, they will be even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, including sexual violence.

  • They may be stigmatized and deliberately targeted due to their contact with foreign aid workers (perceived as carriers of the virus) or because they have come from areas with high infection rates. In some cases, the authorities may use the COVID-19 emergency to introduce restrictions targeting internally displaced people, especially those already facing stigma on the basis of their ethnic, religious or political affiliation(s), arbitrarily limiting their rights. Such measures may also entail camps being turned into de facto detention centres.

  • Internally displaced people may experience protracted displacement if plans for their voluntary return or resettlement are put on hold due to restrictions on movement and no support is provided for their temporary local integration. Restrictions on movement may undermine people’s ability to flee violence and find refuge elsewhere in their country or their right to seek asylum in other countries (e.g. blanket border closures and push-backs, in violation of the principle of non-refoulement).

  • In some countries, COVID-19 may motivate the authorities to speed up processes that are viewed (or presented) as solutions (including camp closures and relocations) but are not truly voluntary, safe and dignified. Furthermore, some internally displaced people may be compelled to return home prematurely, having lost their livelihoods, or to move away from urban centres where the virus is more likely to spread.

  • Restrictions on movement, delays in deliveries of goods (relief supplies and/or equipment), the suspension of livelihoods, food aid, cash programmes and vaccination campaigns owing to reduced access and funds, as well as concerns about the safety of staff working in camps may all hamper the ability of humanitarian organizations to help internally displaced people and respond to sudden and slow-onset emergencies, thereby creating the conditions for new or secondary displacements.