UNHCR warns social and economic consequences of pandemic may be worse than health impact

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has told Euronews he fears the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could be worse than its health consequences.

Filippo Grandi says refugees who live in a precarious situation are likely to be among the first to suffer, if the pandemic causes a global recession.

“We have to provide cash because there is another important phenomenon,” he told the Global Conversation with Anelise Borges. “A lot of these people live off very small incomes, very small daily jobs and a lot of these incomes and jobs are disappearing in the present situation. So we have a social and economic problem that may become even worse than the health problem in the longer term.”

Grandi said that while Italy’s decision to close its ports to refugees because of the pandemic may be justified in the short term, the current crisis shouldn’t be used as an excuse to reduce the protection given to refugees.

“This is not only a phenomenon in Italy,” he said.”All over the world, borders have been closed – and I understand why this is done – because governments are trying to contain the spread of the pandemic. This is very understandable – and it is actually necessary probably in most places. What we are saying is that we have to be careful because closing borders and preventing disembarkation runs against fundamental principles of protection of those in need of that protection. They flee from war and persecution – things that don’t stop unfortunately during the pandemic.

“What we are telling governments is, first of all there are ways to still preserve the practice of asylum even under these circumstances and we have provided a lot of technical advice to governments how to do that … through quarantine systems, through virtual interviews with people … so it is possible to do it.

“But even more importantly if this has to be done for a period of time, let this be temporary, let these measures be for the duration of the crisis, but once the crisis goes away we need to return to normal refugee protection practices because otherwise if this practice stays after the crisis is over then we will have a very serious humans right situation.”

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