Coronavirus’s Grasp on the Future of Refugees

Annabella Gao '23

Throughout the past few months, COVID-19 has dominated news headlines everywhere. The world has scrutinized the graphs charting new cases and shed tears over the devastation it has caused for so many families. The risks it poses towards the elderly and those afflicted with underlying health problems are especially high.


What was unexpected is how slow the virus has been to reach a group of people that would normally be expected to be severely disadvantaged in fighting the disease: the inhabitants of crowded refugee camps where there are few sanitary and medical resources.


During the first wave of the pandemic, the rates of infection in various refugee camps around the world were relatively small. A probable explanation that has been offered is that most refugee camps are isolated from the rest of its country’s populations, and few people visit them. However, though there is not a lot of traffic to and from these places, they are still extremely vulnerable to this disease. As lockdowns were released throughout the summer, the number of cases at these camps began to climb [2].


One refugee camp, al-Hol, located in Syria, had its first infection confirmed on August 27, 2020, five months after lockdowns began in March. Since then, the cases have increased dramatically and the quality of healthcare has declined just when it is needed the most. In August, the number of medical clinics in the camp decreased to just five, from a previous twenty-four, making it extremely difficult for ill residents to receive treatment [1]. 


And it is not just the cases that refugees living in these camps have to fear. Because of the pandemic, the amount of aid provided to them by both countries and international organizations have been cut. The United Kingdom has reduced its spending on international aid to 0.5% of their GNI, previously 0.7% [4].


Not only does this limit refugees’ access to basic necessities, it also severely inhibits their children’s access to education, which is essential for their future. Refugee girls are especially at risk, as it has been predicted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that COVID-19 will cause 50% of all refugee girls who were enrolled in school to not return. The enrollment of refugee girls is already much lower than that of refugee boys, and this will only lower the number of female refugees who are able to obtain an education [3].


The education of these girls is essential to prevent a cycle of high dropout rates among refugee girls. In places where the culture prevents a challenge to girls’ education, female teachers act as extremely important role-models in encouraging girls to attend school. As refugee girls drop out of school, the literacy rate of female refugees will decrease, subsequently decreasing the number of role-models available to these young girls [5]. 


In the future, increase in education for refugee girls will decrease the rate of child marriage, teenage pregnancy, and both maternal and infant mortality, while increasing their leadership and the respect that they receive [5]. However, this future is threatened everyday by the role that COVID-19 has played in the day-to-day lives of refugee camps around the world.


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