PUBLI : World Health Organisation, ApartTogether survey : preliminary overview of refugees and migrants self-reported impact of COVID-19, 2020

Execu­tive Summary

This paper is an advo­cacy brief based on a percep­tion survey called Apart­To­ge­ther that aims to iden­tify how the new coro­na­virus SARS-CoV‑2 (COVID‑19) has impacted refu­gees and migrants around the world, as expe­rienced and reported by them, espe­cially for social and public health aspects ; there were over 30 000 respon­dents from almost all Member States of WHO. The follo­wing high­lights the initial findings of the survey.

Self-reported COVID-19 health status, history of testing and seeking health care
Among the respon­dents, refu­gees and migrants (the survey captured also those in irre­gular situa­tion as “having no docu­ments”), those living on the street or in inse­cure accom­mo­da­tion and those less likely to seek medical care in case of (suspected) COVID‑19 symp­toms. Lack of finan­cial means, fear of depor­ta­tion, lack of avai­la­bi­lity of health-care provi­ders or uncer­tain entit­le­ment to health care were the reasons cited most often for not seeking medical care in
case of (suspected) COVID‑19 infec­tion. Of those who indi­cate not seeking health care, 35% of the survey respon­dents reported finan­cial constraints as the reason, and a further 22% fear of deportation.

Public health social measures against COVID-19
Most refu­gees and migrants surveyed took precau­tions to avoid COVID‑19 infec­tions and followed govern­men­ti­ni­tiated preven­tive public health social measures. Around 20% of respon­dents said that it was diffi­cult to avoid public trans­port or avoid leaving the house. Younger respon­dents were less likely to follow risk reduc­tion measures. Refu­gees and migrants relied on different sources of infor­ma­tion about COVID‑19, inclu­ding from the news, from friends and family and from social media, and accessed infor­ma­tion in both the home country and the host country. People living in more preca­rious housing situa­tions (i.e. on the street, in
inse­cure accom­mo­da­tion, in asylum centres or in refugee camps) had less sources of infor­ma­tion on COVID‑19. The survey found that nongo­vern­mental and civil society orga­ni­za­tions (NGOs), and other suppor­ting orga­ni­za­tions do play a key role regar­ding disse­mi­na­tion of acces­sible infor­ma­tion on COVID‑19 to refu­gees and migrants.

The impact of COVID-19 on mental health of refu­gees and migrants
At least 50% of the respon­dents across various parts of the world indi­cated that COVID‑19 brought about greater feelings of depres­sion, anxiety and lone­li­ness and increased worries. One in five respon­dents also increased drug- and alcohol use. Refu­gees and migrants living on the street, in inse­cure accom­mo­da­tion or in asylum centres are likely at high risk of expe­rien­cing mental health problems in the after­math of the COVID‑19 pandemic. Primary anxie­ties for respon­dents were uncer­tainly about their future, whether they or one of their family members or friends will get sick or whether they will suffer serious finan­cial consequences.

Expe­riences of perceived discrimination
Respon­dents living in asylum centres, living on the streets, in inse­cure accom­mo­da­tion or in other preca­rious condi­tions (e.g. on unpaid work or sent home without pay) indi­cated being affected in terms of perceived discri­mi­na­tion – nearly 40% of those living on the streets or in inse­cure accom­mo­da­tion. Refu­gees and migrants, inclu­ding those in an irre­gular situa­tion or those living on the street or in inse­cure accom­mo­da­tion and in asylum centres, reported
a rela­ti­vely worse­ning situa­tion of discri­mi­na­tion. Unem­ployed refu­gees and migrants reported greater discri­mi­na­tion than others who conti­nued working.

The perceived impact of COVID-19 on the daily lives of refu­gees and migrants
Refu­gees and migrants parti­ci­pa­ting in the survey reported signi­fi­cant impact of COVID‑19 on their access to work, safety and finan­cial means. Respon­dents living in inse­cure accom­mo­da­tion and in asylum centres and irre­gular migrants suffered the worst impact of COVID‑19 on their daily lives, making up around 60% of the respon­dents within the
cate­gory. Refu­gees and migrants who parti­ci­pated in the survey and lived in the WHO Americas, Euro­pean, Southeast Asia and Western Pacific Regions reported greater
impact than those in other regions. However, respon­dents said they were taking various measures to cope with such impacts. They iden­ti­fied staying in contact with family
and friends, enter­tai­ning oneself, seeking infor­ma­tion and medi­ta­ting and praying as the most effec­tive strategies.

Way forward
Self-reported quan­ti­ta­tive and quali­ta­tive infor­ma­tion provides impor­tant insights into the lives and live­li­hoods of the refu­gees and migrants who parti­ci­pated in the Apart‑Together percep­tion survey. This advo­cacy brief attempts to capture their percep­tions regar­ding how they have been impacted in various ways by the pandemic and how they have been mana­ging and coping with the psycho­so­cial and other stresses. Addi­tional comple­men­tary and more in-depth analysis of these initial findings may give impor­tant infor­ma­tion to the Global Programme on Health and Migra­tion for future inputs to research initia­tives aiming at streng­the­ning evidence-informed norms and research for effec­tive policy forma­tion and impactful programming.

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