A recent World Health Organization survey illustrates the everyday experience of migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study, which surveyed over 30,000 refugees and migrants living in 170 countries, was carried out by WHO’s Global Health and Migration Programme to learn more about how the global pandemic has affected this vulnerable group. 

Many of the respondents had fled war or dire economic conditions in their home country only to be faced with the additional challenges posed by COVID-19. Travel restrictions including border closures, suspension of resettlement travel, and last-minute deportation left many stranded or forced to stay in cramped, makeshift shelters or detention centers. Amid these uncertain, precarious conditions, many migrants described either a lack of access to health services or a fear of seeking them out — even if they were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

“Refugees and migrants live and work in often-harsh conditions with inadequate access to health, housing, water, sanitation, and other basic services,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “It is vital for all countries to reduce barriers that prevent refugees and migrants from obtaining health care, and to include them in national health policies.”

The world is bearing witness to the largest migrations and displacement of people since the end of World War II, with entire communities being driven away from their home countries due to conflict, extreme violence, economic and political instability, and environmental hazards. Today, 281 million people are international migrantsnearly 26 million are refugees, and as of 2020, more than 80 million have been forced to leave their homes as a result of persecution, conflict, or generalized violence. The United Nations predicts that this trend will continue to accelerate due to rising inequality, population growth, increasing connectivity, and climate change. These demographic trends have led to increased calls by the UN system to proactively place migrants’ needs front and center of national health policies — and not simply as a reaction to crises or emergencies.

“Most stakeholders considered the health aspect to be a side effect of the migratory process,” said Dr. Santino Severoni, director of WHO’s Global Health and Migration Programme. “What we’re advocating for is for health to be a founding principle for human well-being.”

Read the full article about climate migration by Sarah Alaoui at United Nations Foundation.