Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, just under 2.5 million people have been infected, with 169,859 deaths globally (as of 21 April 2020). Transmission and mortality have to date been concentrated in emerging and high-income economies, but accelerating transmission with severe consequences is possible in low- and middle-income settings, in particular where infrastructure of governance and health systems are weak. Mobile and displaced populations including refugees on the move and in camps present a distinct area of exposure, risk and need.
Under current circumstances, there is broad recognition that controlling and containing the immediate and long-range threat of COVID-19 requires transnational and global coordination and collaboration, consistent with the needs and commitments under the rubric of global health security. Control and containment – as well as appropriate humanitarian support – will not be possible, globally, without clear attention to the risk dynamics of COVID-19 in refugee settings – from Syria, Libya and Lebanon to the Southern Mediterranean.
Refugee camp communities – families and children – are considerably less able than wider host populations to adhere to enhanced hygiene recommendations associated with slowing COVID-19 transmission. They are much less able to achieve or maintain physical and social distancing protocols being advocated by almost all states acting as their hosts. The impact of economic losses, including losses to employment and income, household food security, and access to appropriate and adequate healthcare and education services, will be relatively more severe among these communities.
Addressing the physical, social and economic conditions of refugee communities wherever they are around the world must be a key strategic component of the coordinated international effort to control and contain COVID-19, and as part of the UK’s commitment to global health security. It is at the same time a matter of urgent humanitarian need. RCPCH urges all governments to enhance their support to refugee communities in ways which mitigate the risks currently posed by settlement and camp conditions. We urge the UK Government to provide immediate support to refugee families and children in the UK and in the European sphere of influence, in particular the deeply concerning condition of refugee families in camps such as Moria on Lesbos and more widely around the northern Mediterranean arc, in which the destructive onset of COVID-19 simply magnifies the urgent need for a rational and humane approach to their rights and needs.1