The COVID-19 pandemic is not a “great equaliser” as some have claimed, but rather an amplifier of existing inequalities, including those associated with migration. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is refugees, often the most marginalised of all migrants, who have had the most to lose. Refugees and displaced populations living in crowded and unhygienic conditions have often been unable to protect themselves from the virus, face increasing economic precarity and often find themselves excluded from measures to alleviate poverty and hunger. The threat to refugees comes not only from material (in)security, but from increasing exclusion and exceptionalism associated with the politics of protection. Evidence from the first nine months of the pandemic suggests that some governments, in Europe and US but also the Global South, are using COVID-19 as an excuse to double-down on border closures and/or dip into their migration policy toolboxes to demonstrate the robustness of their response to it. Refugees are increasingly prevented from accessing the international protection to which they are potentially entitled or used (alongside migrants more generally) as scapegoats by populist leaders exploiting the pandemic for political mileage. Some states have used the pandemic to push through controversial policies that further limit access to protection and/or institutionalize the marginalization of refugees. In this context, it seems likely that COVID-19 will accelerate the course of history in relation to refugee protection, rather than changing its direction.
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