COVID-19’s Impact on Migrants and Refugees

Photo by Karim Nabil for CRS

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The COVID-19 pandemic has made everyone vulnerable, but it has especially increased the vulnerability of millions of migrant and refugee women, men and children. Often living in crowded settlements with limited access to basic necessities—like soap, clean water, sanitation facilities and health care—our displaced sisters and brothers cannot easily physically distance to protect themselves from the virus.

In addition to its threat to health, the pandemic’s economic consequences have caused many migrants and refugees to lose their livelihoods. Nearly 75% of refugees can only meet half or less of their basic needs, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

With your generous support, Catholic Relief Services and our partners have helped more than 10 million people with COVID-19 assistance. Thank you for helping us safeguard the health of migrant and refugee communities with innovative programming that continues to advance the progress made by our sisters and brothers on the move.

Uganda: Business Classes Take on a New Form

Host to more than 230,000 refugees—the majority of women and children fleeing violence and persecution in South Sudan—the Bidibidi Refugee Settlement in northern Uganda is one of the largest in the world. CRS piloted a business skills training program there to help people recover and rebuild their livelihoods. For those who have lost their homes, jobs and more, this is critical to regaining stability.


The Bidibidi Refugee Settlement is one of the largest in the world. Catholic Relief Services is offering a business training program to help refugees rebuild their livelihoods. Photo by Phillip Laubner for CRS


The program’s training methodology is interactive. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, sessions were structured around large and small in-person group discussions. The facilitator opened the conversation with a question, story or realistic situation, and participants drove the discussion by sharing their experiences and thoughts, which the facilitator linked to entrepreneurship principles.

In-person gatherings were suspended due to the pandemic, but CRS staff and partners quickly pivoted so trainings could continue in a safe way via the local radio. The training team produced interactive radio shows with guest speakers, practical business activity examples and lessons. CRS ensured Bidibidi had clear radio reception and provided radios and cellphones so participants could listen in small groups.

After the training course, participants can apply for a grant to start their own businesses. Those who secure a grant also receive coaching and other business support.

Egypt: Refugee Students Continue Classes Online

Egypt has a diverse community of refugees, including thousands of young people and unaccompanied minors from Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Syria. Many refugee youth experience gaps in their formal education due to conflict and displacement. To support them, CRS offers advising sessions, financial assistance, mentorship opportunities and other support through its Accelerated Learning Program.

COVID-19 caused additional interruptions for students as they could no longer meet in person. To address their immediate needs, CRS supplied the students with hygiene items, food assistance and COVID-19 prevention education. We moved our programming online so students could connect with their classmates, teachers and mentors, and continue to receive academic and social support. We also provided tablets and internet packages so students could access the platform and other online resources.


A CRS team member meets with a refugee student in the Accelerated Learning Program. Photo by Karim Nabil for CRS


When in-person classes were able to resume safely, CRS continued its programming by implementing COVID-19 safety measures, including masks and social distancing.

“The virtual meeting was an opportunity for me to participate, meet up with graduates, ask questions and receive post-graduation information as well as advice,” says Rama El Haw, a Syrian refugee participating in the CRS program.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Staying Safe in Shelters

Conflict in the Tanganyika province of Democratic Republic of the Congo has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, creating a humanitarian crisis that has impacted food security, nutritional well-being and livelihoods. Françoise Nyota Feza—an established farmer in her community—was forced to flee with her nine children in 2017, leaving their valuable farming equipment behind.

“We settled at the Kalunga displacement camp where we spent five months without any assistance,” says Françoise of her arrival to the provincial capital. “The living conditions got worse without adequate food, and we slept outside at the mercy of the weather. My children suffered from malnutrition and measles because the conditions were so bad.”


Françoise and her children create bricks for the reconstruction of their home. The family received food, a shelter kit and other essential items through the CRS DRIVE project. Photo by Roddy Panga for CRS


Françoise took odd jobs such as washing clothes to support her family. In December 2019—after more than two years—Françoise and her husband decided to return to their village, even as the security situation remained uncertain.

“When we arrived, we found our house had been destroyed and burned. A host family took us in for a few days while the roof of our house was rethatched.” Françoise’s family also had difficulty accessing food and other necessary items during this time. She says she was grateful when CRS began distributions in her village.

CRS provides emergency relief in Tanganyika through the DRIVE project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. We have adapted programming during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep participants safe and healthy and are distributing food, essential household items and tools to repair damaged homes.

“The objective of our response to COVID-19 is to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to returned and displaced communities, while protecting them, CRS and Caritas staff against COVID-19,” says Elie Murhula, program manager of the DRIVE project.

Françoise is grateful for CRS’ support. "Today my family has been saved thanks to this assistance,” she says. “We hope to be able to finish rebuilding our three-room house and have already started building the foundations and are determined to improve our conditions.”

COVID-19 has shown us on a greater scale that we are all connected. Pope Francis shares in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, “God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us.’” With your prayers and support, we can help our displaced sisters and brothers stay safe from the virus and build back a better world so that all can thrive.