Salimullah is a Rohingya refugee who has lived in New Delhi, India’s capital, since 2013, when he fled violence from Myanmar. The 35-year old is now stateless and homeless, having lost his camp to a fire. He lives in a tent with up to 10 others at a given time.
He had a small grocery store selling groceries out of his shack before the pandemic. His savings have been destroyed as a result of the months-long, harsh lockdown in India. Although he and his family survived on donated food, he must return to work as soon as possible, even though he is at risk of contracting COVID-19 or infecting others.
While some Indian refugees have started getting vaccines, none of his fellow camp members have received them. India has a population of just over 7%, and there are severe shortages of vaccines in the country of nearly 1.4 billion.
“The disease does not discriminate. Salimullah stated that if we are infected, the locals will be too.
It was not meant to be this way.
For months the World Health Organization urged countries to prioritize immunizing refugees, placing them in the second priority group for at-risk people, alongside those with serious health conditions.
This is because refugees are inherently living in cramped conditions where the virus spreads more easily.
He said, “They are living in very difficult situations.”
More than 160 countries have included refugees in their plans. However, these plans were thwarted by shortages. The WHO estimates that around 85% of vaccines were administered by wealthy countries. According to the U.N refugee agency, however, only 85% of the 26 million world refugees are in countries that have difficulty vaccinating even the most vulnerable.
COVAX, a global initiative that aims to achieve vaccine equity, was a popular choice for some countries like Bangladesh. It changed its original vaccination plan in February to include almost 1 million Rohingya refugees living in cramped camps near the border with Myanmar. It has received 100,620 doses from COVAX so far. This is less than 1% of the shots it was allocated. Rohingya refugees are left without.
COVAX has not only failed in Bangladesh. The global delivery of COVAX has been less than 8% of its 2 billion vaccine doses by the year’s end.
Even in countries that have started refugee vaccination, there is still a shortage of vaccines. Uganda’s Bidi Bidi Camp has seen less than 2% of its 200,000 refugees receive a single shot. Second doses are in short supply since India stopped exporting them after it exploded.
The problem is further complicated by language barriers and misinformation about vaccines. Thomas Maliamungu is a South Sudanese refugee who lives in Bidi Bidi as a teacher. He said that he was able to overcome his fears and get his first shot after the mandated requirement for teachers.
He said, “Based on the rumors that are floating around, I didn’t want it.”
In order to register for vaccinations, some countries like India required initial documents such as passports and other government identification. Many people without internet access were also denied online registration.
India started vaccinating people in January. Four months later, documentation requirements were relaxed. In June, the Chin community, a Christian minority that fled violence in Myanmar, began getting shots. Their crowded settlement was already being destroyed by India’s monstrous invasion, and entire families were left sick and dying.
According to James Fanai of the Chin Refugee Committee, Delhi, the collapsed city’s healthcare system meant that refugees had difficulty finding a bed in a hospital. Private hospitals charged around $4,000 per day for a few days. He said that getting oxygen was nearly impossible.
Miriam Alia Prieto is the Doctors Without Borders’ vaccination and outbreak response advisor.
She said that many are not in camps, but live with their relatives.
Some European countries are now using single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines for refugees because of the temporary nature of refugee populations. Prieto stated that Spain awaits these vaccines. In June, Greece started a drive to provide vaccines for migrants living in shelters and camps.
The situation in Europe is not good for refugees. However, the situation is getting worse in some countries. Frido Herinckx said Frido Herinckx was the COVID-19 Operations Manager at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s Regional Office for Europe. Only 1.5% and 4.2% respectively in Armenia and Ukraine have been fully vaccinated.
Some countries, such as Montenegro have a fear of deportation or arrest. Red Cross volunteers accompany migrants, including refugees, in order to get help and ensure they aren’t arrested.
He said, “So it’s) keeping that firewall zwischen… the border guards und the health service.”
Even if the supply of vaccines increases, there is still the question of liability. This refers to the question of who is responsible for rare side effects.
The humanitarian buffer is a mechanism that allows humanitarian organizations to distribute vaccines. It was created by COVAX as an emergency mechanism. However, this means that you accept responsibility for any side effects.
Prieto stated that Doctors Without Borders would like to obtain vaccines from manufacturers, but does not want to take on any liability. Many vaccine manufacturers have declined to sign deals or ship vaccines without this stipulation.
She also said that there are times when a WHO-approved vaccine is not yet approved by the host country. This can lead to a mismatch in vaccines available and what is possible.
She said, “We are in a weird phase where a drug is being approved, but nobody wants to accept liability.”
The virus is spreading rapidly and could cause serious health problems for host communities.
“The virus can’t tell the difference between a national or a refugee. Malik stated that if you don’t save and protect your refugee population, it becomes a public health problem.