Downward Spiral: the economic impact of Covid-19 on refugees and displaced people

The economic impact of public health measures to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic is having a devastating effect on communities affected by conflict and displacement. Compounding numerous existing crises and challenges, Covid-19 related travel restrictions, the closure of markets and businesses, and the general economic downturn are causing these communities to lose work and income. This, in turn, makes it even harder for them to feed their families, keep a roof over their heads, and send their children to school.

This report is based on a survey of 1,400 people affected by conflict and displacement in eight countries, and more detailed surveys and needs assessment in a total of 14 countries. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) research found that these communities have suffered widespread loss of income since the pandemic started. In NRC’s survey, 77 per cent responded that that they had lost a job or income from work, temporarily or permanently since March.

The pandemic has also impacted other sources of income. Sixty-two per cent of respondents who had previously received remittances from family members abroad said they were receiving less than before the pandemic. As a result of these drops in income, 30 per cent said that they had to borrow more money now than before the pandemic. The loss of income, coupled with limited access to social safety nets, a drop in remittances, limited saving potential and increased debt, is having profound combined knock-on effects on these communities.

One affected area is access to food. Seventy per cent of survey respondents said that they had to cut the number of meals for their household since the pandemic broke out. Zayno, a Syrian refugee father of five living in Lebanon, explained to NRC the terrible choices this crisis requires families to make, and the stress it causes: “Our children haven’t had meat or fruit for months. It breaks my heart as a parent to know I can’t improve their living conditions or provide for their needs. I would sacrifice my life for them, but I can’t give them enough. The financial support we receive barely covers the rent and electricity bills. It’s even harder to afford basic products like rice and oil.”

Loss of income is also affecting access to other basic services:
• Seventy-one per cent of respondents said that they had difficulty
paying rent or other basic housing costs and many reported they had
been evicted since March.
• Seventy-three per cent of respondents who had children said that
they were less likely to send them to school because of the current
economic situation.
• Seventy-seven per cent of respondents said that they had to cut
medical expenses.

Refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) are among the most vulnerable people in the world and were already facing multiple crises before Covid-19. They have been forced to flee their homes, have limited access to work and education opportunities for their children, often the result of insecure legal status, and in some cases they are faced with continuing violence, or hazards such as locusts threatening their crops. The pandemic and governments’ responses to it have tipped many people into a downward spiral that will be difficult to reverse.


Even a fully-funded humanitarian response plan, or action by the World Bank and other international financial institutions, would not be able to meet the scale of the challenge. Quick and decisive action is required to stem the growing catastrophe that crisis-affected communities are facing. This will require political leadership and will, prioritising the lives and livelihoods of world’s conflict affected people in international and national economic responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Autore: Norwegian Refugee Council. Report written by Daniel Gorevan.

Anno: 2020

Lingua: inglese

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