SEATTLE, Washington — As the world continues to face the challenges presented by COVID-19, thousands across the globe are still attempting to flee regional conflicts and inhumane conditions to find new safe homes for their families. The process of resettlement for refugees has never been simple or easy. However, this year has only made it harder as countries that were once safe havens for resettling refugees have closed their borders due to fears brought by the coronavirus.
The Effect of Border Closures
The vast amount of border closures during the pandemic greatly reduced the rate at which resettling refugees have moved to asylum countries. Many countries suspended refugee departures in March 2020 until conditions improved worldwide. As a result, only a little more than 15,000 refugees were able to resettle to new countries from January to September 2020. In comparison, the year prior, more than 50,000 refugees resettled. This year showed a significant drop in resettlement rates.
Many of the people waiting for resettlement are currently waiting in facilities until these countries lift travel restrictions. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that these encampments are disproportionately at risk of spreading COVID-19. This is mostly due to the large number of people living in tight spaces as well as their lack of access to high-quality medical care.
Around the globe, “more than 90 countries have stopped” accepting applications from asylum seekers. Countries that were already adverse to incoming migrants have escalated their anti-immigration policies as fears of refugees bringing COVID-19 rose. In March 2020, the United States government deported 20,000 asylum seekers and barred travel from countries with a number of COVID-19 cases.
Among these groups were people who are desperately looking to escape conflict and violence. The UNHCR found that most people who are seeking resettlement were victims of abuse, torture or were at high-risk individuals such as women and children.
Prejudices Against Refugees
Resettling refugees have seen an increasing amount of prejudice as the pandemic rages on. Fears of violence have arisen among refugee camps as politicians have started shifting blame to these groups of people for the spread of the coronavirus. These fears, combined with fears of being separated from their families, have led to refugees fewer refugees being willing to get tested for COVID-19. This will only increase the risk of infection spreading within refugee camps.
Although there has been an intense backlash against incoming asylum seekers during the pandemic, the truth of the matter is that refugees bring many economic benefits to their host countries. Resettled refugees in America, for instance, bring in a net economic benefit of $60 billion a year in just taxes.
While this year will have a historically low number of resettled refugees, the UNHCR continues to work to find new homes for those who need them. For instance, 153 Libyans were able to escape government detention centers where they were held for seven months in life-threatening conditions. In addition to this, in the months of August and September, more than 1,000 Lebanese refugees were resettled into new countries.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought international travel to a standstill, trapping thousands of people who are at risk of violence and abuse in countries experiencing high levels of conflict. However, as governments around the world begin to adjust and set regulations that will lift travel restrictions, these asylum-seekers will be able to find new homes for their families.
– Christopher McLean