Increased Risks & Vulnerabilities from COVID-19 to Refugees & Migrant Populations
On Friday 19 June, BGIPU hosted a virtual parliamentary discussion on COVID-19: The Increased Risks and Vulnerabilities to Refugees and Migrant Populations with The British Red Cross (BRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The proceedings were chaired by BGIPU Executive Committee member, Chris Law MP, with panellists from both BRC and MSF. The event was well attended, with members from a wide range of committees and APPGs, including the International Development and Foreign Affairs Committees, plus many of our BGIPU Exco members.
Sam Turner, Senior Humanitarian Advisor at the British Red Cross, began the discussion with an overview of the migrant context in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, stressing the harsh realities for those living in the world’s largest refugee camp. Sam highlighted that COVID-19 has exacerbated the huge humanitarian challenges already faced in Cox’s Bazar, with issues around bringing in external resources, concerns around PPE, and access to medical supplies for refugees there. Sam also stressed the difficulties which humanitarian organisations had faced in trying to get ensure the delivery of key messages to the refugees and the importance of this process.
Liz Harding, Humanitarian Representative at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) UK, then spoke about the migrant contexts in both South Sudan (Bentiu and Malakal Protection of Civilian Camps) and in the “camps” on the Greek islands. Again, Liz highlighted the horrific conditions of these camps with regards to overcrowding, lack of facilities and poor hygiene. COVID-19 has heightened the vulnerabilities of people in these camps, with reduced access to clean water, sanitation, and health services. In Greece there has been increased risk for those seeking refuge with border restrictions and the quarantine that has been placed on the camps.
Following the presentations, members were keen to find out what more they could do as parliamentarians to help humanitarian organisations continue their work. Questions led on to considerations about the long-term impacts on refugees and migrant populations, which included the likelihood of increased food insecurity and chronic hunger, lack of education for children, and decreased number of family reunifications. Members were grateful for the opportunity to hear from both MSF and BRC and agreed that it was their responsibility to keep pushing this crucial issue in parliament.