Refugee and Migrant Health in the COVID-19 Response

Hans Henri P Kluge, Zsuzsanna Jakab, Jozef Bartovic, Veronika D’Anna, and Santino Severoni

The Lancet, Volume 395, Issue 10232 (2020), Pages 1237-1239


This article identifies implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for refugees and migrants due to: (a) suspension of resettlement travel for refugees; (b) restrictions on population movements leading to potential refoulement of asylum seekers; (c) local transmission in refugee hosting countries; and (d) suspension of search and rescue operations in the central Mediterranean.

In particular, the authors highlight:

  • Conditions in refugee camps, where it is difficult to implement basic public health measures, such as social distancing, proper hand hygiene, and self-isolation. The authors recommend site-specific epidemiological risk assessments to determine the extent of the risk of COVID-19 introduction and transmission, along with case management protocols and rapid deployment of outbreak response teams if needed.
  • The impact of the pandemic on refugees and migrants in host/transit countries. Refugees and migrants can be affected by income loss, healthcare insecurity, and the implications of postponement of decisions on their legal status or reduction of employment, legal, and administrative services. Refugees and migrants are also over-represented among the homeless. There is limited culturally and linguistically accessible information about COVID-19. Country responses (e.g. lock downs) have affected volunteer community service provision.

The authors call for an inclusive approach to refugee and migrant health. In particular: (a) responses to COVID-19 should not prevent people from accessing safety, health-care services, and information; (b) preparedness plans should consider refugees and migrants, recognizing the particular vulnerabilities of this population group due to overcrowded living conditions, poor access to sanitation, and poor access to health care in humanitarian settings; and (c) refugees and migrants should be included in national public health systems, with no risk of financial or legal consequences for them.