The IOM and UNHCR run various facilities, including resettlement programs, for migrants across Niger | Photo: picture-alliance/KEYSTONE/A. Anex
The IOM and UNHCR run various facilities, including resettlement programs, for migrants across Niger | Photo: picture-alliance/KEYSTONE/A. Anex

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR have announced a temporary suspension of resettlement travel for refugees because of COVID-19.

More and more countries are closing their border or tightening restrictions on travel due to the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those restrictions are also affecting and disrupting resettlement activities say the international organizations IOM and UNHCR.

"Some states have also placed a hold on resettlement arrivals given their public health situation," read an IOM press release. This "impacts on their capacity to receive newly resettled refugees."

The IOM says that the restrictions were both delaying and, in some cases, stranding refugees or even separating them from family members.

'International travel could expose refugees to virus'

Both the IOM and UNHCR said that they were also "concerned that international travel could increase the exposure of refugees to the virus." For that reason they were themselves taking steps to "suspend resettlement departures for refugees." The UN organizations said that this would be a "temporary measure" and would be "in place for as long as it remains essential."

The organizations acknowledge that resettlement "remains a life-saving tool for many refugees," and so they are working closely with states to "ensure that movements can continue for the most critical emergency cases wherever possible."

According to the UN's own figures, only 1% of the world's refugees even get the chance to be resettled.

Suspension to come into effect over next few days

The suspension is expected to take effect over the next couple of days just as soon as they have cleared the last groups of refugees who were already cleared to travel. The European Return and Reintegration network ERRIN has already announced that it is closing its office in Mali, Morocco and Senegal for the time being until the danger of infection from the COVID-19 virus passes.

"Both agencies look forward to resuming full resettlement travel as soon as prudence and logistics permit," concluded the IOM’s press statement.

 

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