JRS stands with refugees and migrants in the midst of COVID-19

07 April 2020

“We are locked at home, we are worried. I have lost my job as a domestic worker and we hardly have money to buy food. A religious sister working with Centro Astalli (JRS Italy) has provided us with flour, milk, and other food items, as well as some money. As Muslims, we pray together with Christians for all those who are suffering and so that this situation ends soon.”

A Muslim refugee woman from Mauritania, living in Rome with her daughter and 7-month old grandchild


At the beginning of Easter, during the celebration of Palm Sunday, Pope Francis reminds us: “Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: ‘Courage, open your heart to my love.  You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you’”.

Operating in more than 55 countries around the world, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has been working to ensure that internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, and refugees are not abandoned in this time of great uncertainty. Services for these highly vulnerable populations continue in a way that is safe for them and for our staff. As global relief efforts continue, JRS calls on policymakers and partners to consider the following.

Protect asylum in times of crisis

We join UNHCR in its call to governments and partners to put in place mechanisms to monitor and report as well as mitigate potential protection risks for refugees and displaced people, including restriction to access to territory and right to seek asylum. The possibility to apply for asylum and register as an asylum seeker must be guaranteed at any time, as well as the right to receive adequate reception as an asylum seeker.

JRS joins civil society groups in calling for guarantees of access to protection, the end of migration detention, and the inclusion of forced migrants as full members of society. Refugee protection is more pressing now than ever.

Situations of inhumane and overcrowded reception centres, informal settlements, and refugee camps pose a serious risk to those who find themselves transiting through or living in these conditions. JRS calls for the decongestion of refugee camps, allowing for as much social distancing as possible. The condition of reception centres like those found on the Greek islands are never acceptable – let alone in the middle of a pandemic – and JRS calls for the evacuation of the Greek islands as a top priority.

Provide equal access to hygiene and health services

Refugees and other forcibly displaced persons are at the same risk of contracting and transmitting the virus as local populations. While States take measures to help control COVID-19, these efforts must include, and not discriminate against, refugees and should conform to recommended public health practices. This crisis is a reminder that to effectively combat any public health emergency, everyone—including refugees and internally displaced people—should be able to access face masks and other hygiene supplies, water and sanitation services, and health facilities in a non-discriminatory manner.

The initiative of the Portuguese government to temporarily regularise the status of all migrants and asylum seekers with pending applications, so that they can access all services, including healthcare, as Portuguese citizens, is particularly laudable and should be followed by others.

Stop detention and deportation of asylum seekers

JRS has always advocated for an end to detention and continues to do so in the midst of COVID-19. During a pandemic, detention centres become even more perilous as detainees are forced to live in close quarters, with limited to no access to sanitary conditions or health care.  Governments must quickly set up plans to release all detainees, cease deportations, and provide asylum seekers with alternative accommodations when they have none. In the meantime, conditions in detention centres need to be improved to ensure that necessary COVID-19 related safety measures, both for detainees and for the staff, are implemented.

The pandemic is a global challenge that must be addressed through international solidarity and cooperation. It calls every one of us to make a change in our own families and communities. JRS urges communities to embrace the forcibly displaced during ongoing COVID-19 relief measures as well as in future recovery efforts.


Learn more about our response.