The economic recession experienced around the globe as a result of COVID-19 has led to substantial cuts in funding to humanitarian aid for refugee populations, with many countries shifting their focus and directing their resources inward. At the height of the pandemic crisis, 168 countries closed their borders either fully or partially; of those, roughly 90 countries refused to make any exceptions for people seeking asylum. Some countries, such as Italy, closed courts, making new claims impossible to file, and temporarily reassigned immigration offices and their staff towards emergency COVID-19. All of this has resulted in the number of refugees being resettled in new countries taking a sharp decline, but the need for individuals to relocate remains.
Refugee camps—which often struggle with limited access to water, sanitation systems, and health facilities—are in need of essential supplies, such as face masks, hand sanitizer, and access to COVID-19 testing and tracing resources. Overcrowding in camps has made it difficult to implement public health measures such as social distancing. To address this, many camps now require new facilities and more rapid processing of asylum claims to help reduce the population of the camps. Yet, both of these efforts are especially challenging with reduced funds and closed borders that limit the countries accepting applications.
Many displaced people rely on the informal economy, making them particularly vulnerable to the economic effects of COVID-19. Unemployment and loss of housing has disproportionately impacted the community with an estimated three-quarters of displaced people having lost income since the start of the pandemic.
As countries vaccinate their populations against the COVID-19 virus, many worry about refugees and displaced peoples being overlooked. Organizations such as the United Nations Refugee Agency are working to ensure these vulnerable communities are included in vaccine distribution plans.