The 20th of June is World Refugee Day, which celebrates the courage of people forced to leave their home to escape conflict or persecution. This year, it takes on a special importance, as the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic poses particular challenges for many refugees.
Since its foundation in 2017, the EUI School of Transnational Governance has been concerned with refugees and different forms of migration, an essential feature of the School’s ‘Sustainability Cluster’. In this context, the STG hosted a High Level Policy Dialogue (HLPD) on internal displacement, which aimed at increasing protection for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
A resulting Policy Brief with recommendations for future action on internal displacement has been published recently. We talked to the author of the brief, EUI PhD researcher Ileana Nicolau, about how the Covid19 pandemic affects IDPs:
Ileana Nicolau says: “Not all IDPs face the same difficulties and have the same needs, and so it is with the current pandemic. This being said, while the Covid19 can affect anyone, IDPs are often among the most vulnerable population. They may therefore suffer disproportionally from the current health crisis. More particularly, IDPs have a higher risk to be infected because they often live in crowded conditions and face inadequate sanitation and limited access to basic services, such as water. This makes any prevention measures such as frequent hand washing and social distancing almost impossible. Because of their often isolated situation, IDPs may also suffer from not receiving adequate information about the COVID-19 pandemic.”
IDPs may face more risks of complications related to the virus itself if infected.
“On the one hand, they often have limited access to health systems and infrastructures due to their displacement and/or related problems such as the loss of documentation. On the other, they may suffer from poor pre-existing health situation (nutritional, diseases, etc.). In addition, IDPs may suffer disproportionally from the measures adopted in response to the pandemic as restrictions of movement, which may limit their access to market or to land, and more importantly their ability to work which may result in a net loss of income. This situation is particularly problematic for the IDPs as they often lack proper support networks due to their displacement.”
“Host communities may also suffer from more pressure to already often poor pre-existing conditions (economic, sanitary, etc.), which may in turn foster attitudes of marginalisation, stigmatisation or discrimination against the IDPs", Ileana Nicolau added.
While COVID-19 apparently has not minimised the generation of new forced displacement (particularly in armed conflict or natural disasters affected areas), the measures adopted against the pandemic have made it even more difficult to access the IDPs.
“Consequently, assistance to the displaced has been slowed on the ground. Also, the generation of information and data about displacement to guarantee a suited response has been limited. In the long run, the focus on the virus and its consequences could divert the already limited attention (and financial resources) given to this population,” said Ileana Nicolau.
Earlier this week, the STG dedicated an episode of its #FlorenceLive webcasts to the impact of COVID-19 on migration. The event was organised in cooperation with the EUI Robert Schuman Centre’s Migration Policy Centre (MPC).
The MPC Director Andrew Geddes moderated the conversation, featuring high-level speakers Ylva Johansson (European Commissioner for Home Affairs), António Vitorino (Director General of the International Organisation for Migration) and Amira Elfadil (Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union).
The full debate can be watched here:
 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people who have not crossed an international border but have moved to a different region than the one they call home within their own country. (see https://www.un.org/en/observances/refugee-day)