A report drafted by UN refugee agency UNHCR and the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has denounced that the international response to COVID-19 did not succeed in guaranteeing the rights of refugees.
"The collective global response to the COVID-19 pandemic fell short in protecting the rights of refugees despite extraordinary efforts by local actors and the international community," according to a report published on Friday, July 8.
The report was carried out by the UN refugee Agency UNHCR, the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD as well as other actors as part of the COVID-19 Global Evaluation Coalition. It's the first of its kind.
The international evaluation, UNHCR said in a statement, assessed the extent to which the rights of refugees (from access to asylum, healthcare and vaccination, to child protection and protection from gender-based violence) were safeguarded during the pandemic.
Rights to access territory, seek asylum denied
The report highlighted that the most serious consequences of the pandemic for asylum seekers and refugees were the measures taken by many states to deny the rights to access territory and seek asylum.
These measures, aimed at protecting public health, often resulted in forced returns to situations of danger, in contravention of international law, the organizations found.
The document noted that the response of states were widely "inadequate to mitigate the growing risks endured by refugees, from gender-based violence to worsening inequality in education, from the protection of minors to growing xenophobia and vaccine scarcity."
"We've been urging vigilance ever since the onset of the global health emergency, warning that it would test global commitment to protecting the forcibly displaced," UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs was quoted as saying in the statement.
"This evaluation illustrates the extend of the damage. It shows clear evidence the pandemic was used to justify restrictive measures detrimental to the rights of refugees. More than two years on, some of these troubling policies and practices remain in place."
Positive results on inclusion
The evaluation, however, found positive evidence, in particular regarding inclusion, international cooperation and sharing responsibility. The report highlighted "innovations around remote delivery, which enabled the continuation of many critical refugee services despite lockdowns and movement restrictions."
Moreover, most countries "extended coverage to refugees on national vaccination plans. But vaccine nationalism has impeded procurement and distribution in low and middle-income countries, which hosted 84% of refugees in 2021."
To prevent and respond to violations of refugee rights as a consequence of the pandemic, the report made six recommendations to governments, international protection actors and UN organizations. These included boosting preparedness efforts and ensuring continuity of essential protection services; as well as training national authorities and border officials on international refugee law compliance for future pandemics.