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A Restriction of Responsibility-Sharing: Exploring the impact of COVID-19 on the Global Compact on Refugees (October 2020)

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Introduction

The affirmation of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR)1 in December 2018 demonstrated a powerful commitment by the international community to refugee protection and international cooperation in refugee responses. Although in many ways the GCR was created to address crises, few could have imagined the global upheaval the world would face just over a year after its affirmation and only months after the Global Refugee Forum (GRF),2 where 1,400 pledges were made to implement the GCR’s objectives.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not a refugee crisis per se but it has created multiple crises for refugees. Refugees are among the most likely populations to suffer both the direct and secondary impacts of the pandemic. In most countries in the world they face pre-existing barriers to protection and assistance, and now are often – though notably not always – excluded from host countries’ national COVID-19 responses and relief programs. Lockdowns have affected the organisations they may usually receive assistance from, which in many cases have struggled to provide the same amount and type of support as they previously had, while travel restrictions have limited the access of both aid and personnel to many regions in need.3 In camps as well as in dense urban areas where many refugees reside, a lack of basic health infrastructure, overcrowding, and poor sanitation all contribute to the risk of transmission and infection.

These direct health risks as well as secondary impacts on refugee protection, rights, livelihoods, and access to asylum procedures – to name just a few – demonstrate the crucial need for increased and sustained investment in refugee protection and assistance around the globe. As the world’s newest framework for more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing as well as a reaffirmation of the protection and rights afforded to refugees in the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the 1951 Convention), the GCR has an important role to play in improving support to refugees and the countries hosting them in relation to COVID-19.

This report examines the current and potential use of the GCR to address COVID-19 and its impacts, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on the implementation of the GCR itself.4 It provides analysis of and reflections on the effects of the pandemic and concomitant challenges on different aspects of the GCR, ranging from shrinking asylum space and restricted responsibility-sharing to how the Compact features in public advocacy surrounding pandemic responses. Questions explored in the report include: How is the GCR used to address COVID-19 and its impacts? What is the impact of COVID-19 on the implementation of the GCR in terms of refugee protection? What might these impacts mean for the GCR’s shortand longer-term viability? It then offers key take-aways and recommendations aimed at a variety of actors.