Migrants and refugees walk with their belongings towards the Greek border near the Pazarkule border crossing in Edirne, Turkey | Photo: EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU
Migrants and refugees walk with their belongings towards the Greek border near the Pazarkule border crossing in Edirne, Turkey | Photo: EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerability of refugees and migrants worldwide. That's a key message of this year's World Risk Report (WRR), whose focus is on "Forced Displacement & Migration".

"Extreme natural events often hit the poorest and most vulnerable members of society hardest, including refugees and migrants … The Covid-19 pandemic further exacerbates the situation of refugees and displaced persons," states the 2020 World Risk Report (WRR). 

The 73-page report, published on September 15 by the German association Entwicklung Hilft ("Development Helps") and the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict at the University of Bochum, analyzes the particular vulnerability of migrants and the nearly 80 million forcibly displaced people worldwide and how the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic have aggravated their often precarious living conditions. The focus of the 2020 edition of the WRR was "Forced Displacement & Migration".

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the risks of an extreme natural event turning into a humanitarian catastrophe have become more evident, the authors write.

The report analyzes exposure and vulnerability to natural hazards of 180 countries with the goal of "contributing to look at the links between natural events, climate change, development and preparedness at a global level and to draw future-oriented conclusions regarding relief measures, policies and reporting."

Precarious conditions heightens risk

"Climate-related extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity in many places, forcing more and more people to leave their homes," according to the report. Floods and storms displace people to places where they mostly live in precarious conditions with little to withstand crises.

This was the case for droughts or storms as for occuring viral diseases like COVID-19. "Natural hazards initiate a catastrophe when societies are not sufficiently prepared for them," said Katrin Radtke, the scientific director of the report.

Also read: How the climate crisis is triggering increasing displacement

Aside from refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, migrants and migrant workers are also suffering particularly from inadequate sanitary conditions and travel restrictions to prevent infections in overcrowded migrant camps like Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos, border closures and impairment of supplies.

"Time and again, it becomes clear that the risk of displacement and risks during forced displacement are unevenly distributed -- globally as well as within societies," the authors of the report wrote.

World Risk Index

An integral part of each World Risk Report is the World Risk Index (WRI), which combines the endangerment from extreme natural events and societal vulnerability.Worsening hurricanes in the Atlantic could drive increased climate migration | NASA/NOAAAccording to the WRI, the three countries that currently have the highest disaster risk worldwide are the tropical island countries Vanuatu, Tonga und Dominica. Risk regions are primarily in Oceania, Southeast Asia, Latin America as well as western and central Africa.

At rank 162, Germany presently has a very low disaster risk. Malta and Qatar have the lowest risk of all 181 countries on the World Risk Index. The WRI considers earthquakes, storms, droughts, floods and sea-level rise as extreme natural events.


This year's World Risk Report also made numerous political and social, legal, financial as well as humanitarian recommendations and demands to help particularly vulnerable groups like refugees and migrants, including:

  • Recognizing those who decide to migrate at their own volition as a strategy for adapting to adverse effects of climate change.
  • "Clear, internationally recognized criteria" to determine "when a region is considered uninhabitable, and returning to it becomes impossible" with a "distinction between temporary and irrevocable uninhabitable places."
  • Close existing gaps in protection for migrants as they are not protected by the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention.
  • "Returnees must be given greater support in reintegrating into their region of origin to reduce their potential vulnerability to extreme natural events and prevent further displacement."

With epd, dpa


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