A large refugee camp on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, near the town of Atma, in Idlib province, Syria, April 19, 2020.
FILE - A refugee is seen scooping water from a puddle at a camp on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, near the town of Atma, in Idlib province, Syria, April 19, 2020.

GENEVA - The Norwegian Refugee Council is calling for economic sanctions to be lifted on countries struggling with widespread unemployment and mass hunger due to state-mandated coronavirus lockdowns.

More than 212,000 people globally have lost their lives to the coronavirus, according to The Johns Hopkins University. At the same time, millions of the most vulnerable people have lost their jobs and incomes because of lockdowns aimed at containing the spread of the deadly virus.

The secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, says the socioeconomic effects of the lockdown may be tougher and kill more people than the infection itself.

“I think we will see many local collapses where vulnerable people end up in horrific hunger, horrific problems, horrific violence because of societal breakdown…We urge governments to do away with politically motivated blanket economic sanctions of entire nations and people,” said Egeland.

A nurse weighs a child at a health clinic in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe. Heath experts fear a coronavirus lockdown would intensify hunger among the country's poor. (Lameck Masina/VOA)

Egeland notes thousands of Venezuelans who had fled to Colombia to escape hardship in their country have returned home. He explains work had dried up in Colombia.  

He says a recent survey in Jordan by his organization found 90 percent of refugees have lost their jobs since coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns were introduced.

Egeland says economic sanctions imposed on Iran, Venezuela, Syria and elsewhere may have been imposed for good reasons, but in the time of coronavirus, they are having a devastating impact on the very people they were meant to help. 

He adds the sanctions also are making it more difficult for humanitarian organizations like his to work and serve ordinary people who are in desperate need of help.

Egeland says there should be a moratorium on economic sanctions for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. He is calling for blanket exemptions on all medical, humanitarian, and food aid as well as on computer software needed for remotely educating children.


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