New data and case studies compiled and analyzed by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) shows COVID-19 is preventing people from fleeing violence or migrating due to COVID-related movement restrictions, and is making routes even more dangerous for those who do flee. COVID-19 is also causing people to return home to unstable situations because of the economic and social impacts of the virus on their host communities and the humanitarian crises plaguing nations long before the virus took hold. 

Dangerous migration since COVID-19

The IRC found that 29 of the 35 crisis-affected countries (83%) we operate in face border restrictions, according to ACAPS data. Many migrants and refugees are migrating or fleeing despite movement restrictions and are forced to use irregular routes fraught with dangers. As Europe has cracked down on routes over the Mediterranean from Turkey and Libya, the journey to Yemen is now the busiest maritime migration route in the world as migrants and refugees seek safety and opportunity in the Gulf, complicated by a five-year long war in Yemen-- the worst humanitarian crisis in the world-- and torture and rape at the hands of smugglers along the journey. 

Locked in to violence since COVID-19  

Returns to danger since COVID-19 

Elinor Raikes, Vice President of Program Delivery at the International Rescue Committee, said, “COVID-19 has turned migration patterns on their heads. Fleeing for your life is the definition of essential travel, yet many migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are simply locked into the persecution, violence and dire conditions they so desperately sought to leave behind. Many have seen their informal sector work dry up, xenophobia increase, and risks to their lives and livelihoods grow due to COVID-19. Faced with new levels of vulnerability in the host country they fled to, many are choosing to return home to potential violence- they would rather live through the uncertainty of a global pandemic in their home country despite the many risks. As crisis-affected countries face double and triple emergencies, we have to remember that one-size-fits-all movement restrictions have consequences down the line and around the world. Until we prioritize pathways to safety for the most vulnerable, routes will continue to be dangerous, especially during the pandemic. And, more than that, the world needs a global ceasefire, stronger funding to crisis-affected countries who are facing far more than just this deadly virus, and innovative strategies to serve those who are stuck or in transit.”

The IRC operates in all of the above countries, providing a range of services, including protection services, case management, cash assistance and healthcare. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRC also launched a $30 million appeal to mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations.