The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) have decided to temporarily suspend resettlement work for refugees, citing difficulties in movement due to the restrictions imposed by countries amid fear of the global spread of COVID-19 and the rising number of its cases.
In a statement issued on Tuesday March 17, the UNHCR said that suspension of resettlement activities will take effect within a few days. However, it also appealed to states to “allow movements in most critical emergency cases wherever possible.”
Halt of resettlement work would affect a large number of refugees who have been displaced due to war, natural disasters, persecution or any other reason. The suspension can lead to longer periods of stay in camps which generally lack proper living and hygiene facilities, risking the safety and health of a large number of people.
According to figures released by the UNHCR, there are around 70 million people who have been displaced due to various reasons worldwide. Out of these, around 26 million are currently living in often overcrowded refugee camps. A large number of them are permanently displaced and cannot go back to their previous homes.
Several reports have noted the poor conditions inside refugee camps in Greece and other countries due to overcrowding, after fresh border restrictions were imposed by European countries. Officials of UNICEF, another UN agency working for children, have also raised concerns about the fate of minors trapped in these refugee camps in Greece.
The overstretched camps in Asian countries, such as those in Bangladesh which hold thousands of poor Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, pose an even bigger risk of a coronavirus outbreak.
The UNHCR has not given a date for the resumption of resettlement activities, stating only that “both agencies look forward to resuming full resettlement travel as soon as prudence and logistic permit.”