The world is gripped by a global public health emergency. As the pandemic spreads, the coronavirus will disproportionately impact the world’s most vulnerable, among them refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people (IDPs). The scale and speed of the pandemic underscore how deeply interconnected the world’s populations have become. A virus does not respect borders. Nor does it discriminate. Therefore, multilateral organizations, humanitarians, donor governments, and policymaker must respond to the crisis jointly, in a non-discriminative way, to make sure the world’s forcibly displaced people are not left behind.
The COVID-19 crisis is expected to wipe out 6.7 per cent of working hours globally in the second quarter of 2020 – equivalent to 195 million full-time workers. The ILO points out that epidemics and economic crises can have a disproportionate impact on certain segments of the population, which can trigger worsening inequality.
Forcibly displaced populations, including refugees and internally-displaced persons (IDPs), are particularly at risk facing higher rates of unemployment and underemployment.
Based on past experience and current information on the COVID-19 pandemic and insights from previous crises, a number of groups can be identified, for example:
• Young persons, already facing higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, are more vulnerable to falling labour demand.
• Women are over-represented in more affected sectors, such as services, or in occupations that are at the frontline of dealing with the pandemic, such as the health sector. Women also have less access to social protection and will bear a disproportionate burden in the care economy, in the case of closure of schools or care systems.
• Unprotected workers, including the self-employed and casual workers, are likely to be disproportionately hit as they do not have access to paid or sick leave mechanisms, and are less protected by conventional social protection mechanisms and other forms of income smoothing.
• Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable – and this is indicative of the impact that the COVID-19 virus could have on refugee workers in some PROSPECTS countries – as it constrains both their ability to access their places of work in destination countries and return to their families.
• People With Disabilities (PWDs), already at significant disadvantage in the labour market, formal and informal, will inevitably be negatively affected by the virus. In some cases, they may already be in key at-risk groups due to underlying health complications. In addition, they may suffer more than most from shrinking work opportunities. In the context of forced displacement, refugee and IDPs with disabilities are likely to find themselves at further disadvantage in terms of access to education, training and labour market or livelihood opportunities.
• In light of the above, it would also be important to take account of potential greater, more complex mental health impacts of COVID-19 on forcibly displaced populations, affecting not only access to enhanced socio-economic opportunities, but also to cope with the preventive measures and quarantine as this may apply.
Immediate action is required to assist those communities and populations that are particularly vulnerable to the impact of the virus and where prevention is a matter of life or death, for example, refugee and IDP camps and settlements and the communities that host them. The PROSPECTS programme will inevitably be affected and the donor, the Government of the Netherlands, has requested information from the five partner agencies on how they view the impact on proposed Multi-Annual Country Programmes and what contingency plans could be developed to put in place a COVID-19 mitigation response.
PROSPECTS was born out of crisis response, namely the impact of forced displacement on host countries and communities and bringing together development and humanitarian actors to ensure more sustainable outcomes built on the three pillars of education, protection and employment.
As a crisis response programme in which the donor has an expectation that it will be flexible, adaptable and responsive to emerging situations, PROSPECTS offers an important opportunity to the partners to design, pilot and enhance activities that can be introduced into country programmes to support preventive and coping measures to address COVID-19 in refugee, IDP and host communities.
In this context, the PROSPECTS programme espouses a “Phased COVID-19 Approach” to strengthen contingency planning and mitigation strategies. The approach which is inevitably interlinked as activities can support both short- and medium-term objectives, promotes:
• An immediate short-term strategy that looks at supporting multilateral efforts to align with government needs and response programmes on prevention and containment of the virus, particularly in refugee and IDP hosting areas, as well as camps and settlements.
• A medium-term post-crisis recovery strategy that already anticipates the needs and expectations that will follow such a pandemic and the importance of supporting government and other efforts to assist a rapid return to normalcy in refugee and IDP hosting areas, including camps and settlements, reinforcing activities across the three pillars of the PROSPECTS programme: education and training, protection including social protection and employment, livelihoods and access to decent work.