This background paper presents considerations on how the COVID-19 pandemic is accentuating existing vulnerabilities of populations forcibly displaced by war (refugees, asylum-seekers, internally-displaced and stateless persons), in settings across East Africa and the Middle East. In addition to the devastating health threat the pandemic poses, lockdown measures imposed by governments to reduce transmission are having outsized effects on forcibly displaced populations, further entrenching poverty, xenophobia and creating new humanitarian protection issues.

With the exceptional physical distancing requirements of this pandemic adding impetus to a global drive towards the localisation of humanitarian responses, we also describe some of the local responses to COVID-19 mounted by forcibly displaced communities and humanitarian actors early in the epidemic. We end by offering suggestions for how greater inclusion could help address vulnerabilities of displaced people to COVID-19. This background paper is based on a rapid review of existing published and grey literature and personal communication with humanitarian actors, social scientists and representatives of local organisations working in diverse settings of displacement in the Middle East and East Africa.

It was developed for the Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform (SSHAP) by the RECAP project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (led by Diane Duclos and Jennifer Palmer). Summary considerations on the ways humanitarian actors, civil society organisations and government departments with specific responsibilities towards displaced people can lessen vulnerabilities in this pandemic are available in a summary paper: Operational considerations: COVID-19 and forced displacement in the Middle East & East Africa.