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World Bank, UN Say Pandemic is Pushing Displaced People to Take Extreme Survival Measures

Daniele de Fatima, stands at her house in Cidade de Deus slum, as she receives food and bread from members of the Institute doAcao, which was produced at the Santuario de Nossa Senhora de Fatima, amid COVID-19 outbreak, in Rio de Janeiro, June 24, 2021.

World Bank-U.N. refugee agency survey in eight developing countries finds the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened conditions for forcibly displaced people, pushing them to take extreme measures to survive. The data was collected from 90,000 phone interviews in Bangladesh, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Uganda and Yemen.

An analysis of the data shows forcibly displaced people and the communities hosting them are suffering from the social and economic fallout of the pandemic. However, it finds displaced people are at particular risk from the pandemic, which has increased their vulnerabilities in significant life-threatening ways.

The survey highlights the devastating and wide-reaching impacts on the forcibly displaced from government lockdowns. It says they are faced with increased food prices, loss of jobs and income, lack of health care, school closures and limited freedom of movement.

Jeffrey Tanner is senior economist of the World Bank-UNHCR Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement. He says families who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence and persecution are at renewed risk of losing their livelihoods.

"For example, we see that nine in 10 refugees in Uganda and three in four refugees in Chad reported that their total income had decreased since the pandemic," said Tanner. "These households have two sources of income: what they earn and what they receive through assistance. They experienced employment losses at rates at least as large, if not larger, than hosts.”

This loss of income, he says, means displaced people have difficulty paying for food, housing, medical care, and education for their children. Tanner says food insecurity is a huge problem in all countries surveyed.

"Forcibly displaced households across Bangladesh, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya and Uganda reported reducing their food or non-food consumption, or both," said Tanner. "In Kenya, for example, adults in half of refugee households are skipping meals so that their children have food. More than 75 percent of refugee households decreased the number of meals that they eat every day.”

Authors of the survey note forcibly displaced people rarely are represented in national statistics. They say the continued collection of such data will allow humanitarian and development agencies to target their support to vulnerable groups in ways it will do the most good.