With COVID-19 cases rising again in many countries, the spotlight has been on the race for the vaccine, and how world leaders and front-line workers are handling this deadly pandemic. This leaves little to no attention for the vulnerable groups who are indirectly affected as a result of COVID. According to a report published by UNICEF discussing migrant and displaced children in the age of COVID-19, statistics show both the direct and indirect challenges migrants are facing due to the pandemic. This report states that in 2019, around 33 million children were living outside their country of birth, many of these being displaced migrants. An estimated 3.7 million children are living in refugee camps, many of which are COVID hotspots. The pandemic presents numerous obstacles particularly for migrants and children and according to a statement from UNICEF some include “socioeconomic challenges, weakened health systems, disrupted health services, job and loss income, interrupted access to school and travel restrictions.”
Migrants are of particular concern during this pandemic because of their already vulnerable situations. Many countries are unable to provide adequate shelter and care for those in camps or refugees living in communities. According to UNICEF, COVID-19 is also conflicting with public child protection services and many unaccompanied migrant children have been forced to live in the streets or overcrowded camps. The findings in the report also noted that children living on the streets “may face the added risk of being detained by immigration authorities, potentially exposing them to violence, abuse or exploitation.”
As countries continue to restrict travel and close borders, many families are separated, leaving many migrant children stranded in foreign countries. Travel restrictions have also led to a decline in supplies and valuable humanitarian resources as countries are unable to assist migrants with basic necessities because of movement and border restrictions. As UNICEF notes, “UN agencies were forced to suspend resettlement procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cutting off a ‘vital lifeline for particularly vulnerable refugees’, leaving ‘millions of refugees with an uncertain path ahead.'” Where does this then leave displaced children and migrants? If countries and governments are struggling to manage the pandemic, where is there room to care for these refugees?
Countries are running out of resources and those in camps are suffering severely because of this. Restrictions and lockdowns have forced many individuals away from their families or unable to leave violent or poor economic conditions. Refugees who have settled into communities have lost their jobs or have not been able to access proper health care during this pandemic. Many migrants are struggling financially which prevents them from getting tested or paying for medical bills and in some cases, countries are simply not allowing undocumented migrants to access health care services.
Governments around the world have failed to consider the effects of the pandemic on these particularly vulnerable groups. According to UNICEF, the UNHCR has “called on states to respect international human rights and refugee protection standards.” This includes quarantine and health checks and ensuring proper public health measures. This must be extended to those who may not have citizenship or status in host countries and as a result, are not entitled to proper health care. Countries must do better at caring for those individuals who have come to their country in seek of a better life or are displaced for various reasons, many including violence and conflict.
States must be held responsible for their treatment of vulnerable migrants during COVID-19. Children are left alone on the street and camps and many have faced human rights abuses, violence, and exploitation. Activists must demand that appropriate measures are put in place to combat the social and health concerns that many migrants have raised since the start of the pandemic.
Everyone has the right to access health care and be protected under the law, but countries often disregard this when it comes to those without status or citizenship. Countries like Portugal are working towards combating this issue, UNICEF stating they have begun granting residency permits to migrants and asylum seeks with pending applications. This has allowed for migrants to access health care and social services, like housing. This has helped protect vulnerable individuals who have no way of accessing the resources or support needed during the pandemic. Other countries should also be adding policies that help contribute to easier access to healthcare, which is a right that should be guaranteed to all.
As many countries struggle to care for their citizens during these trying times, government funding should be put aside to care for migrants and those without status. NGOs, human rights groups, and activists must put pressure on governments to pay attention to the treatment of vulnerable groups in their country. Governments are getting away with abusing the rights that should be protected and granted when allowing migrants and refugees into their countries. This has led to violence, exploitation, abuse and COVID outbreaks in numerous camps.
The growing concern of violence against migrants and children during this pandemic is also something that the government should be attempting to combat. Policies must be set in place to ensure the safety and well-being of children both in camps, schools, and community settings. Countries must take into consideration basic rights and necessities when creating new policies that will attempt to combat the vulnerability and impact that COVID has taken on migrants, particularly on children. Money should be put towards shelter, food, testing, healthcare, and ensuring a safe environment for all. Social and public policies need to be put in place and countries need to advocate for the fair treatment of all during these trying times. Vulnerable migrants need support, but most of all they need to be recognized and cared for during difficult times such as the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
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