By: Guest Contributor

The novel coronavirus or COVID-19 has affected everyone, forcing people to make adjustments in their ways of life. Different groups have different needs and requirements, including migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, displaced persons and those who assist them in shelters and refuges.

To best deal with this pandemic in these spaces, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), made up of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Organization for Migrations (IOM), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the World Health Organization (WHO) have created an interim guide to support those who work in shelters and refuges, with information on how to take care of yourself and how to properly assist the people who are there.

All states have an obligation to protect the rights of all people on their territory without discrimination, including in humanitarian situations. However, potentially due to ignorance and prejudices, a migrant’s legal status and housing conditions may be wrongfully interpreted as factors that limit their rights.

With regards to providing assistance during the COVID-19 crisis, it is essential that staff in migrant shelters:

  • Bring information and services to migrants in an appropriate manner. Those who have an irregular status in a country may doubt whether to seek out health services. If they do, the information may not be available in the appropriate language and form, or they may be discriminated against and stigmatized. This means that shelters must be equipped with both adequate materials and staff training.
  • Adapt spaces. In humanitarian situations, many migrants find places live outside of official shelters, in informal camps and other collective spaces which may be overcrowded. These spaces need to be identified and adapted to reduce interpersonal interactions in common areas, such as kitchens and bathrooms, and even in bedrooms.
  • Rethink food distribution. Some recommendations for this are: define the points from which the provisions will be distributed; organize rations before scheduled distribution; do not allow crowds in distribution spaces; manage the flow of people entering and leaving; and take additional sanitation and hygiene measures. The details of these measures are available in World Food Programme’s Recommendations for Adjusting Food Distribution Standard Operating Procedures in the Context of the COVID-19 Outbreak
  • Involve migrants and other people on the move in response strategies, policies and plans. Each government may establish travel restrictions that involve refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons and migrants during the COVID19 outbreak. However, close and responsible monitoring is necessary so that there are no restrictions based on fear or misconceptions related to the coronavirus.

This is a non-exhaustive list of recommendations to implement in shelters and refuges that work with migrants and other groups in mobilization. The full interim guidance document also includes information regarding coordination and planning; risk communications and community engagement; surveillance, case investigation and rapid response team; health screening; laboratory system; prevention and control of infections; case management and continuity of essential services; and logistics, procurement and supply management.

Prevention rather than reaction is the best way to ensure the severity of the situation does not escalate and affect more vulnerable populations such as people on the move, among others.

SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities