In the absence of a universal roll out of vaccines which are under development or going through approval, or in the absence of widely-available effective treatment, COVID-19 will continue to have significant implications on people of concern to UNHCR, especially in poorer countries in which the majority of the forcibly displaced are hosted.
The economic downturn has meant that many people of concern, particularly urban populations, have lost or seen a major reduction in their source of income and are struggling to meet their basic needs. UNHCR monitoring carried out since the onset of the pandemic indicates that over 74% of refugee households, as well as most IDP households, are able to meet only half or less of their basic needs. With the World Bank predicting the deepest global recession since the Second World War, these needs will likely deepen, further compounding vulnerabilities.
With the second wave of the pandemic already being felt across many countries, border closures are likely to continue to affect access to asylum and territory. Protection incidents have markedly increased, with some UNHCR offices receiving ten times the number of usual calls for protection. The pandemic has led to a serious global spike in gender-based violence among people of concern with increased levels of intimate partner incidents, a heightened risk of violence for women engaging in the sale and exchange of sex, and a higher risk of child marriage and teenage pregnancy. Gender inequalities are deepening, with many women and girls seeing their access to assistance and services limited even further and their unpaid care responsibilities increasing.
And of course, COVID-19 has disrupted education around the world, with the impact of school closures expected to continue for decades. Before the pandemic, of the 20.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, an estimated 7.4 million were of school age, of whom some 48% were out of school. The pandemic could cause this number to rise, as those who are enrolled fail to return to school, are unable to pass examinations, or drop out due to economic pressures or early marriage and pregnancy.
How is UNHCR responding?
UNHCR has taken a two-pronged approach to its COVID-19-related planning: ongoing COVID-19 programming, particularly in the health, WASH, shelter, camp coordination and camp management and protection sectors has been ‘mainstreamed’ into the Global Appeal. Some $469 million is included within the Global Appeal. This includes about $174 million linked to the exceptional socio-economic and protection impacts of COVID-19, and about $295 million of requirements linked to COVID-19-related health, WASH, shelter and other protection activities.
In addition to those activities, the supplementary appeal focuses on $455 million of needs related to the exceptional socioeconomic and protection impacts of COVID and a few critical health, WASH and shelter needs for which there was no possibility to mainstream into the Global Appeal. These specific needs are described in more detail in this supplementary appeal.
Considering activities already mainstreamed into the Global Appeal, plus supplementary needs, the total ‘ask’ for COVID-19-related activities in 2021 will be approximately $924 million. Funds received will be used to bolster UNHCR’s response across the entire spectrum of forced displacement, including refugees and IDPs, and stateless persons.