18 December 2020

COVID-19 exposes and amplifies inequalities for refugees and migrants


The COVID-19 crisis has affected the entire world. A new report from the World Health Organization co-developed by researchers from University of Copenhagen suggests that the pandemic has had exceptionally bleak consequences for refugees and migrants.


Three out of four refugees and migrants report that COVID-19 has had a significantly negative impact on their lives, according to a new report published today on International Migrants Day by the World Health Organisation. The ‘ApartTogether’ survey – initiated by a consortium of European research centers, led and coordinated by researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Ghent University – shows that the global pandemic seems to have hit refugees and migrants disproportionally hard.  

‘It is evident that the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting vulnerable refugee and migrant communities exceptionally hard. Our survey is reporting a number of different effects on the lives of refugees and migrants. Taken individually, these impacts would be damaging enough. But they are likely to interrelate and exacerbate the living conditions of refugees and migrants in ways we are only beginning to understand’, says Morten Skovdal, co-ordinator of the ApartTogether consortium and Associate Professor at the Department of Public Health, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, UCPH.

The refugees and migrants participating in the survey reported a deterioration of their mental health, with at least 50% of the respondents indicating that COVID‑19 brought about greater levels of depression, worry, anxiety and loneliness.

Furthermore, one in five respondents said that this deterioration of mental health has led to increases in use of drugs and alcohol.

‘Our analysis shows that the COVID-19-pandemic is hitting those living in precarious situations the hardest. The high levels of worsened mental health are especially worrying, given the high level of psychological suffering these groups already experience and their limited access to mental health services’, says Morten Skovdal.

The report draws on the perspectives of 30,000 respondents living in 170 countries and serves as a first inquiry into the social impact of the COVID19 pandemic on refugees and migrants globally.

Fear of deportation keeps refugees away from medical care despite of symptoms

According to the report, refugees and migrants who are undocumented, living on the street or in insecure accommodation such as refugee camps or asylum centers constitute a particularly vulnerable group. They are often exposed to the virus with limited tools to protect themselves and in many cases public health measures do not reach them.

This group of refugees and migrants also reported being less likely to seek medical care for suspected COVID19-symptoms because of financial constraints or fear of deportation. At the same time, they are less likely to comply with the safety directions given by the authorities.

‘These living conditions make it very difficult or even impossible to follow the guidelines. 19.3% of refugees and migrants living in a refugee camp and 24.8% living on the street or in insecure accommodation reported that they are unable to implement physical distancing’, Morten Skovdal says.

Necessary to improve living conditions for refugees – also during a pandemic

The ApartTogether survey report aims to give refugees and migrants a voice and to understand their specific challenges. Understanding how refugees and migrants themselves experience and cope with the pandemic is crucial to shape inclusive and holistic policy responses, Morten Skovdal explains.

‘Our analysis shows that, even though refugees and migrants face similar health threats as their host populations, the pandemic may have exacerbated their often precarious living and working conditions’, he says and continues:

‘The results clearly underline the need and importance of including them in policy responses to COVID19. Measures are needed to increase refugees’ and migrants’ access to multi-language information and to health services, both medical and psychological. Efforts need to be taken to improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable groups, and to continue the provision of services - also in times of a pandemic’.

Click here to see the ApartTogether survey

About the ApartTogether survey

The survey contains 30 questions that can be answered within 15 minutes using a mobile phone or other handheld devices or laptops. It uses a simple language and has been translated into 37 languages. The questions cover socio-demographic details, experiences of COVID-19 and preventative measures. It also asks about daily stressors and stigma, psychosocial well-being, as well as coping strategies. The survey ran from April 2020 and closed on 31st of October 2020.


Associate Professor Morten Skovdal
+45 35 33 73 60

Press Officer Amanda Nybroe Rohde
+45 23 64 94 25