Refugees face new challenges as coronavirus closes national borders

April 30, 2020

One impact of the coronavirus has been the closure of national frontiers, as countries attempt to stymie the spread. This has exacerbated inequalities for those living in refugee camps in different parts of the world. On 17 March, the EU closed its borders to non-nationals in response to the virus. The following day, the Greek government imposed restrictions on refugees’ movement within an EU-funded refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos. Built in 2016 to house 640 people, it is now home to at least 3,745 refugees, who live in overcrowded and insanitary conditions. Asylum seekers, who sleep in cramped tents at night, already struggle to access medical care. In total, 42,000 refugees live on five Greek islands, and experts say the coronavirus will spread uncontrollably if it reaches the camps. But the virus puts more than just refugees’ health at risk: it could threaten their relocation to other EU countries as part of the asylum-seeking process.

The story highlights the unequal outcomes of the coronavirus. While Covid-19 of course poses a risk to all members of society, the impact is much greater for those already living in precarious circumstances. Asylum seekers and refugees living in camps are among the most at-risk demographics. They face challenging circumstances and enormous health risks, due to the overcrowded, unhygienic and under-resourced camps they are located in. It is important for companies to remember that there are certain groups who will require specific support through the crisis, in both the immediate and long term. Businesses should consider the ways in which their responsible business initiatives can support the beneficiary groups that may be most disadvantaged and most hidden during this time.