Disease in underdeveloped countries

In refugee camps all over the world, fear of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is growing. Millions of refugees and displaced persons currently living in overcrowded camps across the world are facing a heightened risk due to the mostly deplorable conditions. Without adequate access to clean water, sanitation or hygiene items such as soap, a COVID-19 outbreak in the camps would have devastating consequences.

In the refugee camps in Greece, for example, the situation has already worsened considerably: In April 2020, Greece was forced to quarantine a refugee camp after residents there tested positive for the virus. In two camps near Athens, several people have tested positive and the camps have been quarantined. Conditions like the above demonstrate that the people in refugee camps are in dire need of our assistance.

The pandemic abroad

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread quickly and widely; the number of cases worldwide has now exceeded ten million. Many governments responded with an escalating range of policies including widespread business and border closures. While some countries are cautiously beginning to emerge from their lockdowns, some form of containment measures are likely to remain in place in many countries for the coming months.

The economic consequences of the pandemic are expected to be dire. The World Bank has estimated COVID-19 will cause the fourth-worst global recession in the past 150 years, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has estimated a global contraction of 4.9 percent, the worst downturn since the Great Depression.  This impact will be realized through a variety of channels. Disruptions to production will affect supply chains and global trade. The majority of businesses, regardless of size, are facing declines in revenue, insolvencies, and job losses. This is leading to mass unemployment, wage reductions, lower productivity, and reduced remittances. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has estimated that nearly half of the global workforce is now at risk of losing their livelihoods.

These impacts are compounded for the millions of refugees living in low- and middle-income countries.  Prior to COVID-19, this population already faced a wide range of de jure and de facto barriers to economic inclusion (see box 1), facing challenges distinct from those faced by host populations preventing them from being able to obtain decent work as defined by the ILO and earn an income commensurate with their skills. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that 70 percent of refugees live in countries with restricted or no right to work, 66 percent in countries with restricted or no right to freedom of movement, and 47 percent in countries with restricted or no right to bank accounts. Partly as a result of these restrictions, most refugees work in the informal economy and in sectors that the ILO has deemed “highly impacted” by the pandemic. COVID-19 is therefore likely to lead to widespread loss of livelihoods and an increase in poverty among this population.

For refugees, COVID-19 is a health crisis, a socio-economic crisis, and a protection crisis. While the pandemic will affect refugees differently depending on their location, it will impact their access to additional sources of income, like aid. In addition, refugees’ invisibility to social safety nets, along with rising xenophobia, will only serve to increase their economic precarity in the face of COVID-19. Increasingly inward-looking policymaking, driven by nationalism and coupled with rising unemployment resulting from the potential global economic recession, will make it more difficult to argue for expanded economic inclusion for refugees in low- and middle-income countries. Before the pandemic, efforts to facilitate the economic inclusion of refugees were progressing, albeit slowly. The effects of COVID-19 threaten the progress achieved so far.

Nevertheless, COVID-19 has shown that efforts to expand economic inclusion for refugees are more relevant than ever. Facilitating greater economic inclusion will enable refugees to enter the labor market and provide for their own socio-economic needs. It will also help low- and middle-income refugee-hosting countries expand labor markets by including “essential workers” (such as doctors, nurses, caregivers, scientists, and cleaners), and stimulate the post-COVID-19 economic recovery. The pandemic’s spread has shown that leaving refugees and other marginalized groups behind only serves to exacerbate the situation.

Impacts of COVID-19 for Refugees in developing countries

The economic effects of COVID-19 and there disproportionate effect on refugees and hosting countries

Economics of a Pandemic

There are currently 79.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including 45.7 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 26 million refugees, and 4.2 million asylum-seekers. In addition, there are millions of people not recognized in these categories, such as the 3.6 million displaced Venezuelans throughout the world. This creates an immense group of people who fall under the mandates of the UNHCR and UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). According to the 2019 Global Trends Report, 73 percent of refugees live in neighboring countries, and 85 percent in low- and middle-income countries (herein also referred to as Emerging Markets and Developing Economies, EMDEs). 60 percent of  refugees live in urban areas, while the remainder live in camp-like settings. These refugee-hosting countries, like the rest of the world, are vulnerable to the health and socio-economic impact of COVID-19, with the added challenge and responsibility to also protect the refugee populations they host.

COVID-19, and the measures used to prevent or address the pandemic, have not affected all countries equally. While the majority of deaths attributable to the virus have occurred in high-income countries, the death toll in low- and middle-income countries is high and rising. On May 13, all African countries confirmed infections, and on June 13, Brazil became the country with the second highest death toll (between the United States and United Kingdom). Yet all countries are facing a severe economic crisis.

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 will pose many challenges both in the short and long-term for all low- and middle-income countries. Nevertheless, these challenges are also compounded for low- and middle-income refugee-hosting countries (see figure 1). In order to examine the macroeconomic effects of COVID-19 on countries that host large numbers of refugees, we used the projected growth rates from the April 2020 World Economic Outlook (WEO) from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).[28] Our sample consists of the 15 EMDEs[29] hosting the most refugees, asylum-seekers, displaced Venezuelans abroad, and other people under UNHCR’s mandate who have travelled over national borders (“refugees”), compared with other EMDEs and the world. This ‘major refugee-hosting country’ sample covers 59 percent of the world’s refugee population and has more than five times the number of refugees as a percent of the total population (1.6 percent) as the global average. We examine the change of the projected growth rate between 2019 and 2020. This provides a rough estimate of the macroeconomic effect of COVID-19 accounting for the differences in growth rates beforehand.

Aside from work, aid is often the most important source of income for refugee households, providing in-kind and cash-based assistance that helps cover basic needs. Refugees typically do not have access to publicly provided services and support, and therefore must rely on working and/or on humanitarian assistance to meet their needs. Aid for refugees includes both short-term emergency relief such as humanitarian cash transfers, and vital livelihoods programming like vocational training, agriculture support services, and job placement programs, among other programs key to refugee survival and resilience. As the pandemic affects refugees’ incomes deriving from their work, humanitarian aid will become increasingly important for refugee households. However, COVID-19 has made it increasingly difficult for international donors and non-governmental organizations to deliver humanitarian assistance, especially given border closures and social distancing guidelines. As a result, refugees’ access to aid and livelihoods support has been threatened, affecting primarily urban refugees.

How to Help Countries affected by covid-19

Please help us assist those individuals in under-developed countries affected by the pandemic and the corona virus

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