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UNHCR Global COVID-19 Emergency Response, 17 April 2020



  • Nearly all countries have COVID-19 cases, including a small number of cases among persons of concern (PoC) to UNHCR but with no concentrated outbreak so far.
  • In a joint statement, UNHCR, IOM and UNICEF welcomed the first relocation of unaccompanied children from Greece as a strong message of European Solidarity.

Global Overview

The current outbreak of COVID-19 requires first and foremost a strong public health response to address the spread of this virus. However, the COVID-19 pandemic will increasingly result in secondary impacts including a significant global economic downturn. A new study published by the United Nations University indicates that the economic impact of the pandemic could increase global poverty by 8%, equivalent to up to half a billion people. Given that some 84 % of all refugees live in the developing world, this socio-economic impact will be disproportionately higher for the forcibly displaced and stateless whose access to formal labour markets, to education and to public health services are often not on par with citizens of a country. In all regions it can be observed that the need for food and social assistance has increased since the movement restrictions and lockdowns were introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as many persons of concern (PoC) are increasingly unable to make a living. Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) report serious problems in making ends meet, including the purchase of food, medicines and other essentials and the payment of rent. As host communities feel the economic impact of COVID-19, they may limit access of refugees and IDPs to land and other natural resources that have supported basic needs such as food and energy. Experiences from previous crises, such as the global financial crisis in 2008 and the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014 have shown that this might lead to reduced access to income and social services, the erosion of existing, yet informal, coping mechanisms, reduced social cohesion and risks of further stigmatization and discrimination. In the past, forcibly displaced people were one of the last groups of vulnerable people to be considered by government economic stimulus packages. To mitigate these risks, UNHCR advocates for the inclusion of those forced to flee their homes, stateless persons and people living in camps, slums or in the margins of society in national COVID-19 surveillance and response plans, economic recovery initiatives, including those designed to combat vulnerabilities, and in social protection measures.

UNHCR Response
Progress to date and Impact

  • UNHCR is staying and delivering, and working with governments, partners and communities to ensure that essential and life-saving assistance and services are being provided across all operations.
  • Progress has been made in various areas (including health, WASH, education) in all regions to prepare refugees, IDPs and other PoC for the pandemic.

Gaps and Challenges

  • Global supply chains are affected by transport difficulties due to border closures and travel bans. For instance, suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE) are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the unprecedented global demand, which is slowing down the delivery time for these items. UNHCR together with other organizations is exploring alternative supply routes and local procurement opportunities to meet the demand for medicine and PPEs.

  • The travel restrictions make it increasingly difficult for international health and humanitarian aid workers to reach the affected areas, resulting in the need for UNHCR to rely more on local partners. Together with other international organisations, UNHCR is advocating for exemptions for both medical staff and humanitarian workers to ensure that essential core work can continue.