GZERO VIDEO: Virus impact on refugees better than expected but future bleak, says UN official

NEW YORK (GZERO MEDIA) – The impact of Covid-19 on refugees has been less catastrophic than expected, says the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi.

This is despite a global population of 80 million forcibly displaced individuals, the highest the UN has ever recorded.

Speaking with American foreign policy expert Ian Bremmer, Mr Grandi said that while the UN has been campaigning against “ghettoising” refugees and closed refugee camps, these have actually helped in the short term.

“However, since many of those places still exist, it was easier to control the pandemic there for obvious reasons, but at a cost that is not sustainable, at the cost of everything: their livelihoods, their ability to move and so forth,” he said.

According to the UNHCR, over 80 per cent of the world’s refugees and nearly all the world’s internally displaced people are hosted in low- and middle-income countries which have been impacted badly by Covid-19. Close to 70 per cent come from just 5 countries, with Myanmar being one of them.

With a rise in border closures from Covid-19, Mr Grandi says there remains the worry that governments will use the virus as an excuse to keep borders shut for asylum seekers.

His main concern, however, is the long term impact of the pandemic that will cripple refugee livelihoods.

“Refugees, displaced, stateless people are very vulnerable because most of them depend on the jobs that are the first ones to disappear in lockdowns,” he said.

“I’m also worried that when these big rescue packages for the economies are put in place…maybe refugees will be excluded.”

Responding to a question by Mr Bremmer on the principle drivers of rising refugee numbers, Mr Grandi said that a combination of “conflict, discrimination, persecution” and economic factors like inequality have made richer countries more attractive for asylum seekers.

“Everybody’s moving because of some sort of vulnerability, and now in the background of all that…you have the climate emergency that is also likely to compel people to move,” he said.

This GZERO media video is being shown here as part of a media partnership agreement with The Straits Times.

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