The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted every country in the world. The pandemic has claimed nearly 19,000 lives with over 400,000 infected cases across the globe. Of the 100 countries reporting local transmissions of COVID-19, more than 30 have significant refugee populations. And as their leaders struggle to contain the outbreak with an already overstretched medical infrastructure and protect their citizens, millions of stateless individuals in refugee camps remain exposed to the virus. With minimum healthcare services available to address the challenges at refugee camps and the compromised hygiene, the situation appears to be combustible. While there are no known cases yet of COVID-19 in refugee camps — which is likely due to a lack of testing — the disease is going to hit these communities hard.
Despite increasing calls to support low- and middle-income countries during the global health crisis, refugees are largely ignored and left to their own devices. With the global agenda almost hijacked by the spread of coronavirus and the limits of domestic healthcare infrastructure nearing the point of exhaustion, countries that host refugees have simply ignored these residents of makeshift camps. This is an unsettling and difficult time for all of us. But perhaps as citizens of a country, we somehow are made to believe that the state will rescue us in a time of crisis. The refugee community, which is over 30 million, has no security and no one to rescue them. Even in times before the coronavirus disrupted the world, the global health security agenda has always focused on the security of the rich — not those who have no political agency.
Just because refugees do not belong to any state, should we ignore how they will survive this outbreak or the one after this? Leaders around the world and the UN, which itself appears helpless with its latest appeal for financial assistance for the refugees, must craft a global approach to avoid the tragic loss of life in communities that already suffering.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2020.