COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that we, as one global community, can only be safe if everyone is included and protected.

UNHCR is providing protection and assistance to people forced to flee who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. We advocate for their inclusion in vaccination plans and work to address their growing needs in education, mental health and psychosocial support, child protection and prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence. 

103 million people

forcibly displaced around the world 

Last updated November 2022

“If ever we needed reminding that we live in an interconnected world, the novel coronavirus has brought that home.”

These words, coming from UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, express what the world has been experiencing since 2021: the coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, knows no borders and no language barriers. It threatens everyone on this planet – including refugees and displaced people.

And it can only be tackled if we all, as one global community, work together and demonstrate solidarity. Because what the COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably demonstrated, is that the health of every person is linked to the health of the most marginalized and vulnerable members in a society. And these members often include refugees, stateless people and internally displaced people.

If you are a refugee and need help, click here for more information.

How does UNHCR help refugees and internally displaced people in the fight against the coronavirus?

Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve scaled up our work to keep refugees and internally displaced people safe across the globe. We responded with life-saving support such as boosting water and sanitation facilities, increasing access to public health and hygiene as well as airlifting emergency supplies and establishing isolation units. We work hard to ensure that the rights and protection of forcibly displaced people are respected, including the right to seek asylum despite border closures. 

At the same time, we are responding to the exceptional socio-economic and protection impacts of COVID-19 on people forced to flee in key areas like:

  • Reducing vulnerability through cash assistance, helping meet basic needs and facilitating access to services;  
  • Protecting incomes, livelihoods and employment opportunities, through start-up capital and agricultural investment to improve food security;  
  • Preventing and responding to gender-based violence and ensuring services for women and girls are accessible despite lockdowns;  
  • Promoting mental health and psychosocial wellbeing, and strengthening psychosocial counselling; 
  • Communicating and engaging with communities, through existing and newly built community networks and offering guidance and fact-based information;  
  • Restoring education, including through reopening schools safely in accordance with health protocols and investing in online and offline distance education and support to the most vulnerable, in particular for adolescent girls. 

But the needs are growing and we cannot do this alone

Your support will help UNHCR stem and reverse the worst impacts of COVID-19 on refugee and displaced populations, and ensure they have access to critical protection and health services and global vaccine distribution.  


How does the pandemic affect refugees?

Refugees and other displaced people belong to the most marginalized and vulnerable members of society. They are particularly at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic because they often have limited access to water, sanitation systems and health facilities.

Around three-quarters of the world’s refugees and nearly all internally displaced people are hosted in low- and middle-income countries, such as Jordan, Colombia, Iraq, Lebanon and Bangladesh. All of them are under severe economic strain. COVID-19 containment measures have disproportionately impacted refugees and forcibly displaced people. These populations face lost livelihoods, spiralling poverty and destitution. They frequently face specific challenges and vulnerabilities that must be taken into consideration in COVID-19 readiness and response operations. Keeping the most vulnerable safe means keeping everyone safe.

Low COVID-19 vaccination rates in poorer countries also compound risks for refugees, as global income inequality combines with uneven access to vaccines, means that vulnerable populations including refugees are being hit hardest.


Coronavirus updates and other useful information