Today is World Refugee Day and June is immigrant heritage month, a time when we are supposed to be celebrating the 14 percent of America’s population who are immigrants — many of whom came here as refugees — and all they have contributed to the United States’ communities, economy, and vibrant diversity. Yet, this year, the global COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately threatens the survival of vulnerable migrants and displaced persons, especially refugees, and the U.S. is not doing nearly enough to help.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 1 percent of the world’s population is now forcibly displaced by war, human rights violations, persecution, climate change, and economic disenfranchisement: nearly 80 million people. The spread of infection among refugees and displaced persons is already occurring, will be fatal, and may prolong and even amplify the effects of both pandemics in ways that will affect us all.
I grew up in Jordan, a small country of ten million people — about a third of whom are refugees. I treat refugee patients from Syria at the Zaatari camp in Jordan, one of the largest refugee camps in the world. I can attest to the limited infrastructure in the camp to deal with the virus, and the infancy of public health science in the country as a whole. However, the response plan in Jordan was a natural continuation of a spirit of welcoming refugees and those who have nowhere else to go. Jordan has shown leadership in addressing the global displacement pandemic, which I believe has contributed directly to the nation’s exemplary control of the coronavirus pandemic. Even though limited access to testing can make infection rates among refugee populations difficult to estimate, Jordan has still reported only nine total deaths from COVID-19 so far.
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