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COVID-19: Do not forget internally displaced persons, UN expert urges Governments worldwide

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GENEVA (1st April 2020) – States must immediately step-up their measures to protect the 40 million internally displaced people worldwide from the COVID-19 threat, a UN expert said.

“Internally displaced persons are at heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to limited access to healthcare, water, sanitation, food and adequate housing, and often face discrimination,” said Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons. “They are among the most vulnerable people and should not be forgotten by Governments in their responses to the pandemic.”

“Those in camps or collective sites often find themselves living in overcrowded conditions, with emergency shelters not physically and structurally adequate for mitigation of COVID-19 transmission. Their vulnerability is heightened in contexts of armed conflict,” Jimenez-Damary said.

The Special Rapporteur highlighted that the situation of displacement might increase the already high vulnerability of older people and people with underlying health conditions to COVID-19. Displaced people with disabilities or belonging to minority groups or indigenous communities  might face even more barriers in accessing essential services and healthcare.

“Governments must ensure that all internally displaced persons have access to water, sanitation, facilities for personal hygiene, adequate housing and food. They must be informed about the disease risks, prevention and treatment. Those who require medical treatment for COVID-19 must have access to appropriate health care in a timely manner and without discrimination,” she said.

The UN expert also called on States to include internally displaced people in their decision-making process. “Internally displaced persons know best the specific challenges they face. Their participation in identifying these challenges and designing tailored responses to COVID-19 is essential.”

“In camps, prevention and response measures must be adopted based on risk assessments involving the camp population. A physical re-planning of camps bearing in mind health imperatives of self-quarantines may be required, while ensuring that physical distancing does not result in lack of support to the most vulnerable.

“States must scale up humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons in light of the pandemic, while taking the appropriate measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and protect humanitarian workers”, she added. “I welcome the adoption of the Global Humanitarian Response Plan COVID-19 and appeal for its wide support by the international community, including among the G20.

“It is important that internally displaced persons are not abandoned in this crisis. I call on States to exercise their sovereign responsibility to protect them based on the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and without diverting from existing delivery of humanitarian assistance. I encourage the international community and donors to ensure that solidarity will remain steadfast with some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.

ENDS

Ms. Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, a human rights lawyer specialized in forced displacement and migration, has over three decades of experience in NGO human rights advocacy and capacity-building. She was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons by the Human Rights Council in September 2016.

As a Special Rapporteur, she is part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization, and serve in their individual capacity.

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact: Xabier Celaya (xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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