UNHCR warns of dire consequences for refugees from COVID-19 underfunding

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UNHCR warns of dire consequences for refugees from COVID-19 underfunding
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR’s Chief of Public Health Section, Ann Burton – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
17 September 2021   |
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, calls for more global attention and funding support, to counter the impact of COVID-19 on forcibly displaced people worldwide.

The COVID-19 emergency tops the list of UNHCR’s top-10 underfunded situations in 2021. Only one third of the budgeted requirements of US$ 924 million has been received, leaving a yawning gap in UNHCR’s ability to protect the most vulnerable from the fallout of the pandemic.

Despite progress in many locations where UNHCR is working, we continue to see new cases and people continue to die. While safe and effective vaccines can relieve pressures on health systems and save lives, vaccine inequity continues to hit the hardest in many refugee-hosting states. We know that 86 per cent of refugees are hosted in developing countries. However, some 80 per cent of all vaccine doses have been given in high- and upper middle-income countries.

At the same time, low-income countries, hosting the bulk of the world’s refugees, have the least resilient health systems and are struggling to cope with the needs of their own populations – before we add the extra needs posed by hosting refugees. As UNHCR, we reiterate our call on states to share excess doses with COVAX in a timely way, to address the global vaccine inequity and avoid prolonging the pandemic.

Until now, we have been very encouraged by the overwhelming response of hosting states in including refugees in the vaccine roll-out and urge them to continue to do so. However, we have seen that many barriers to vaccine access remain. UNHCR stands ready to support states to overcome some of these barriers – provided we have the means to do so – for example, by creating information materials in refugee languages suitable for low literacy levels.

The pandemic hurts forcibly displaced and stateless people in ways that reach far beyond the risk posed by the virus itself. And the failure to adequately fund the response only deepens their plight.