“The right to health is universal and should be respected at all times. As rich countries are competing over the speed of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, we must remind ourselves that no one is safe until everyone is safe: It is in everyone’s interest, and part of our common commitment to leaving no one behind, that no parts of the world or groups of people will be excluded from vaccine access,” says Charlotte Slente, Secretary General, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC)
Displacement affected people, of whom the vast majority live in low- and medium-income countries who are already behind in the global race for vaccines, risk further exclusion from accessing the COVID-vaccine by the nature of their status as displaced, as they often don’t have equal access to for instance health care in the country, they reside in. This exclusion further exacerbates existing vulnerabilities and lack of access to rights and services.
“While it remains to be seen how governments across the globe will cater in this important endeavor, DRC is encouraged to see that according to UNHCR, more than half of those countries with vaccination plans in place are including refugees in such plans. It is also commendable that a certain quota of vaccines globally through the COVAX facility will be reserved for poorer countries and for humanitarian purposes. It is however crucial to ensure that refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons and migrants are equally included in these schemes where that is not currently the case, and that vaccination plans and rollouts will be carried out in a transparent manner, which does not exacerbate tensions between communities and population groups”, Charlotte Slente continued.
Refugee inclusion in vaccination programmes is in line with the general global commitment to refugee inclusion encompassed in the Global Compact on Refugees adopted by the majority of UN Member States. Refugee inclusion in labour markets require equal access to vaccines – and refugees and migrants in general often face living conditions that makes isolation and distancing difficult and work in sectors and front-line positions, where working from home is not possible.
Also, access to vaccination should not become a measure of de facto immigration control, where vaccination status can be misused to prevent refugees and migrants from moving. It is in the interest of public health to have a clear boundary between vaccination delivery and immigration authorities, so that refugees and migrants can access vaccination schemes, regardless of legal status, which is in line with the Global Compact on Safe and Orderly Migration. Lack of such access must never hinder access to protection. In addition, information about COVID-19 and vaccination should be understandable, directed also towards refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, and be made available in relevant languages.
Finally, countries facing humanitarian crises and needs are often amongst those far behind in the global vaccine supply chains. It is thus important to ensure that vaccines are available to all those who need it in order to ensure humanitarian response and access.