With the onset of the current pandemic, things are bound to get a lot more challenging for many migrants and refugees, as well as for the societies that host them.

The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide was already the highest it had been in decades even before the global coronavirus crisis. In 2016,  about 40 million people became internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 22.5 million,  refugees. 

Most migrants are extremely vulnerable both to the health and socio-economic effects of COVID19. They are constantly on the move, work in the service economy, and have limited access to public services. Women migrants are particularly affected. 

We have read  stories of hundreds of Venezuelan migrants violating the government-imposed quarantine in Colombia by trying to return to Venezuela at all costs, where they hope to at least they access the country’s precarious health system and look after their families.

Most had been working in Colombia’s informal economy and, after the lockdown, were unable to earn a living. 

In Jordan, local activists are expressing concern for Syrian refugees currently living in camps as there are fears that the virus could spread among them and have devastating consequences.  “So far, no reports have been made about any Syrian refugee having contracted the coronavirus. However, it is not clear if the reason is lack of contact or lack of testing,” said Daoud Kuttab of the Community Media Network, a WACC partner organization in that country.ii.

In response, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) recently launched a global funding appeal seeking US 499 million to help meet migrants’ needs during the crisis. The IOM  also urged national governments to include migrants in their pandemic response plans. “When migrants and displaced communities are excluded from national response plans and services, particularly health care, everyone is at greater risk…We also need to anticipate and prepare for the potentially dire economic consequences for migrants, host and source countries,” said IOM’s Director General, António Vitorino.iii

In this context, WACC encourages those responding to migrants’ needs to pay special attention to migrants’ communication rights at this time. COVID19 has the potential to reinforce xenophobia and discrimination against migrants and refugees, as well as to legitimize unbalanced media coverage by portraying migrants as carriers of the virus or foreigners   taking up valuable intensive care unit beds.

 Communication and migrant rights advocates need to work together to  

  • Promote migrants’ right to access to information; 
  • Advocate for migrants’ right to freedom of expression;
  • Create avenues to help meet migrants’ broader communication needs, such as the need to be listened to, to be able to tell their stories, and to participate in dialogue that provides them with physical, social and psychosocial support;
  • Discourage xenophobic and hate speech in society; and
  • Develop media content with the linguistic and cultural needs of migrants in mind. 

Several WACC partners around the world are already working to meet the communication and information needs of vulnerable communities, including those of migrant populations through efforts like the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM)’s COVID 19 Migrant Monitor. To learn more about the ways some of WACC’s partners are responding to the Covid-19 crisis, please click here


Photo above: Genesis, who is from Honduras, looks after her daughter at a shelter in Gudalajara, where a migrant caravan from Mexico hoping to make it all the way to the U.S. took a pit stop. Photo: Sean Hawkey/ACT Alliance