The Pacific Council recently hosted a teleconference with Maryam Zar of Womenfound and Todd Snyder of the Lost Faces of Humanity Foundation, and moderated by Kate Hooper of the Migration Policy Institute. They discussed the global COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the ongoing refugee crisis. Click here to view Zar’s complete presentation.
Here are key takeaways from the discussion:
- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all refugee services in the United States are suspended, including in-person services, permits, immigration offices, immigration court hearings, asylum applications, resettlement proceedings, etc. “What was already an arduous process is now a nearly impossible situation that’s devolved into a waiting game, leaving refugees in sub-human camp conditions until countries can begin to recover from COVID-19,” Zar said.
- The more migrants that made it through camps to Europe, the more potential migrants saw this as an option and chose to pursue it, hoping to become success stories themselves. However, this ever-increasing influx caused bottlenecks in camps that are now severely overpopulated. This meant months of uncertainty and no clear next steps. Now with COVID-19, everything has reached a full standstill, with no hope of entering a new country.
- Refugees in these camps need information, as they rarely speak the language native to their camp’s location. They often make choices based on false rumors and what they can visually perceive (for example, seeing a barge approach the camp, assuming it’s rescuing them or bringing food, when in reality it’s COVID-19 related).
- It is already nearly impossible to see a doctor or receive health care resources in normal conditions. Now, there is zero flow of aid. COVID-19 can spread through camps like wildfire. Any doctors available are treating emergency, near-death situations rather than helping anyone with mild symptoms. Zar said there is zero hygiene, social distancing, or any preventative tactics. Water is used to drink and cook rather than being “wasted” on washing hands or bodies.
- Governments, weapons companies, and arms dealers need to be held accountable, the speakers argued. “We need to remember why this massive refugee population exists in the first place,” said Zar. “They are escaping out of conflict zones that they can never safely return to. Western nations have created and contributed to this problem. We should all care about this and take responsibility to help. People often do this when they see personalized stories of refugees. It’s our job to pay attention to the conflicts that fuel this problem.”
- Snyder pointed out that children crave education and learning, and parents are willing to work. However, before educational systems can be put in place for refugees, basic needs need to be covered first. “Most youth are in survival mode, so it’s not realistic for them to excel academically in such conditions,” he said. “Alleviate these pressures [walking miles to get water, malnutrition, etc.] to pursue education. No matter how badly they want to learn, realistically, they need the logistics to survive before they can start education.”
Watch the full conversation below:
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.