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A Syrian boy during an awareness workshop on Covid-19 at a camp for displaced people in northwestern Syria. Photo: AAREF WATAD / AFP / NTB Scanpix.

Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the already existing vulnerabilities of refugee populations have been exacerbated. The impact of COVID-19 on refugees has gone beyond the devastating health tolls also to include massive loss of employment, livelihoods, shelter, and nutrition, as well as increased gender-based violence and poverty rates. There is a dire need for an increase in humanitarian aid and international action for refugees to receive a safe and dignified response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Syrian refugee and IDP camps amidst the pandemic

Refugee camps are crowded spaces with sparse medical services, which increases the vulnerability of communities within the camp to contagious illnesses like COVID-19. Within refugee camps and urban centers where refugees are often living, there is a limited ability to follow public health measures such as social distancing, which, if in place, can decrease the likelihood of outbreaks. Despite these conditions, the number of reported cases of COVID-19 for refugees remained low through much of 2020. The perceived limited impact may have been due to refugees living in isolated areas where the camps are often located, with limited mobility allowed between camps and the surrounding host community. However, the true number of COVID-19 cases remains unknown due to limited access to testing and medical personnel for displaced populations. …


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A resettlemed family. Pixabay

This month, UNHCR reported that 2020 will be a record low for refugee resettlement. The UN Refugee Agency announced that according to its data, “only 15,425 refugees were resettled from January to the end of September this year, compared to 50,086 over the same period last year.” This is due to the general quota for resettlement continuing to decline as well as negative impacts by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has delayed departures and paused some resettlement programs indefinitely. …


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A young refugee works in a mobile shop in Sao Paolo, Brazil after having resettled from Syria via a humanitarian visa. UN Refugee Agency

Refugees are often forced to flee their homes when they lose access to employment opportunities. Upon relocating to often neighboring countries, refugees are faced with challenges of entering the formal labor markets. Within host communities, refugees are either siloed into refugee camps with limited livelihood and economic opportunities or live in urban areas that may only provide opportunities in the informal markets. The lack of employment options can lead refugees to move to a country where better jobs are seemingly available, however, there are many barriers in re-locating such as acquiring proper documentation of passports, visas, and work permits.


It does not take much imagination to picture a world where changing weather patterns lead to disastrous events such as flooding, hurricanes, wildfires, desertification, drought and sea-level rise. These environmental catastrophes have intensified and become more likely due to climate change, and in return have led to millions of people being forced to flee their homes.

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Climate refugee. Photo by Alessandro Grassani.

For an example of climate change affecting migration, look no further than Syria. A devastating drought, the worst in 900 years, affected the livelihoods of over 1.5 million farmers in rural Syria almost fifteen years ago. The drought led farmers to migrate from rural to urban areas of the country. It also led to a decimated water supply and disrupted food chains that became widespread in the country. While climate change is not the only factor that impacted migration in Syria, it certainly exacerbated already existing failures in social systems within the country and the extra stresser of the drought acted as a threat multiplier when it comes to political stability. Syria is not isolated in the climate migration phenomenon — people are forced to flee their homes due to changing weather conditions globally. For years, there has been incessant flooding in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, the degradation of local ecosystems in Central America, and detrimental drought in the Lake Chad Basin in west-central Africa. In 2018, 28 million new internal displacements accounted for in the World Migration Report. A staggering “sixty one percent (17.2 million) of these new displacements were triggered by disasters, and 39% (10.8 …


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Black Lives Matter protest in Greece. Image from Record Newspaper

Refugee Pathways acknowledges that the movement for refugee rights is deeply connected to the broader movement for racial justice. Our vision for refugees to relocate safely and in a humane and dignified way recognizes that racial discrimination is often a barrier to that vision for refugees in both their home and host countries. In order to create this vision of a more just world, the advocacy for the protections of refugee rights and the movement for racial justice must be seen as interconnected. Creating space for the empowerment of refugees requires the protection of their full experience as it intersects with their multi-layered identities. …


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We are thrilled to announce the launch of our very first Refugee Pathways Campaign! Refugee Pathways envisions a world in which all refugees can relocate safely and find protection in a humane and dignified way. For us, this means researching and publishing information regarding legal pathways for refugees as they seek safety.


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Learn about four refugees on the frontline of the COVID-19 Pandemic and what you can do to support them

This World Refugee Day, we at Refugee Pathways would like to lift up and celebrate refugees worldwide who have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Refugees are our essential workers, our childcare providers, our grocery store clerks, our mask-makers, our doctors and our scientists. They are the people who feed our communities, teach our children and provide our medical care. No strangers to adversity themselves, refugees around the world have been rising to meet the needs of their communities during this pandemic. …


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Arrival point on Lesvos, Greece by Jim Black

Four years ago, when I was working in humanitarian advocacy in New York, I decided to leave New York for Greece to work on the refugee response. I arrived in Lesvos, Greece in August of 2016, just after the European Union and Turkey struck a deal to curb the large numbers of refugees arriving in Europe at the time, by controlling the crossing of refugees and migrants from Turkey to the Greek Islands.

Protracted conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, as well as central and north Africa, had displaced hundreds of thousands of people over the past years with over one million refugees embarking on treacherous passages across the Mediterranean and Aegean seas to reach Europe, which had been viewed as a firm protector of human rights. However, when I arrived in Lesvos and started working in the various refugee camps on the Island, I saw how many refugees saw their human rights being neglected. In Greece, the situations in which the refugees found themselves in were (and still are today) intolerable, which had been aggravating their needs. In 2016, the conditions that I saw were degrading, and they continue to worsen today. Refugees arriving in Greece since 2015, lack adequate accommodation, shelter, food, water, sanitation, health care, and legal services. Holding refugees in depleted camps on Greek islands, where refugees face conditions that compromise their mental health and safety, has retraumatized an already highly vulnerable population. …


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© UNHCR/Ioana Epure

Travel arrangements for resettling refugees have been severely disrupted since mid-March when international air travel faced drastic reductions and many countries began to limit entry across their borders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While closing international borders is not a new response to pandemics, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that “restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions.” The response to halt immigration, including resettlement programs, does little to stop the spread of COVID-19 and instead places an undue burden on families seeking refuge. Considering that the majority of refugees live in areas with fragile health systems, the current travel restrictions and border closures are also increasing the likelihood of refugees remaining in environments that will only accelerate their chances of contracting COVID-19. …


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UNHCR/Antoine Tardy

Education is essential to building a foundation of lifelong learning and development. However, education remains a severely underfunded sector in the humanitarian space and during emergencies, such as times of crisis or conflict. Even further, higher education is often considered a luxury which exacerbates inequalities between those impacted by emergencies, and those who are not. For example, roughly 3% of refugees successfully attend tertiary studies compared to 37% of people globally. This disparity in attainment of higher education leaves communities disadvantaged and unable to rebuild once the crisis has ended. …

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Refugee Pathways

Empowering refugees on their journey to safety one complementary pathway at a time.

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