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COVID-19 'dramatically worsened' lives of migrants and refugees, says WHO

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By Sandrine Amiel
Migrants gather outside the temporary refugee camp in Kara Tepe as they wait to depart from Lesbos, Greece, Sept. 28, 2020
Migrants gather outside the temporary refugee camp in Kara Tepe as they wait to depart from Lesbos, Greece, Sept. 28, 2020   -   Copyright  Panagiotis Balaskas/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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The World Health Organization (WHO) has documented in an extensive new study how the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacts the lives of refugees and migrants across the world.

The report found that many were not able to seek COVID-19 treatment, with 35% of respondents citing financial constraints as the reason and a further 22% fear of deportation.

"More than half the respondents across different parts of the world say that COVID-19 brought about greater level of depression, fear, anxiety and loneliness," the WHO said in a press release.

"One in five also talked about a deterioration of mental health and increased use of drug and alcohol," WHO continued.

The study was launched on Friday to mark International Migrants Day.

The survey was conducted with the participation of more than 30,000 refugees and migrants from around the world.

Respondents were asked to grade the impact of the pandemic on their mental and physical health as well as their ability to work and support themselves on a scale from 0 to 10. "The average impact assessment reported was 7.5," according to the WHO.

The purpose of the survey was "to take stock of the real‐life experiences of refugees and migrants, listen to their stories and understand first‐hand the real challenges when associated with limited access to health care and with stigmatisation and discrimination," wrote WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in the report's introductory remarks.

'I ended up at the hospital'

The report includes a number of testimonies such as Sam's, a migrant in Greece living on the streets.

“Corona has been a nightmare for the homeless as essential services shutdown, and I was not able to access toilets anywhere. I ended up with a urinary tract infection and at the hospital due to the extreme pain," Sam told the WHO.

For Lili, a young Vietnamese migrant living in Denmark, the feeling of loneliness has been the biggest consequence of the pandemic.

“I feel like there is no one I can rely on now. I don’t have like a safety net financially,” she said. The young woman recently graduated from her Master's degree and is unemployed.

Including refugees in pandemic response

The report urges policy-makers to fully include refugees and migrants in their responses to the pandemic.

“It is vital for all countries to reduce barriers that prevent refugees and migrants from obtaining health care, and to include them in national health policies,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Among other measures, the report recommends "removing financial and other barriers to COVID‐19 testing and treatment services and introduce safety nets to mitigate the adverse social and economic impacts of the pandemic."