Universal and Equal Access to Covid-19 Vaccines for Refugees

On World Refugee Day, Public Services International continues to call for universal and equal access to Covid-19 vaccines for refugees, undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons (IDPs), on the same footing as nationals.

As the voice of public service workers who are at the frontlines delivering health and care services to communities, PSI insists that it is not through charity that we will protect the world's population or achieve vaccine equity between rich and poor countries.

"The recent pledge by the G7 nations to provide one billion Covid vaccine doses to poor countries - that also happen to host 85% of the world’s refugees - must necessarily be accompanied by a TRIPS waiver and by the protection of peoples' health globally, as the latter will contribute to addressing the root causes of poverty, which is one of the reasons why people seek refuge in rich countries," says Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International (PSI).

We continue to witness how the Covid-19 pandemic has widened and deepened the already existing inequalities and rendered those who are vulnerable even more vulnerable, such as refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented migrants and IDPs.

We need to genuinely recognize and value our health and care workers, who include among them migrants and refugees with health backgrounds

"With countries rolling out their vaccination programmes, it is crucial that no one is left behind. The virus does not recognize asylum, refugee or migratory status. It does not discriminate, so neither should we. We can only be safe until everyone is safe,” adds Pavanelli.

Covid measures have shut down borders, suspended asylum, leaving refugees trapped on the borders, detained or encamped in poor conditions. Refugees face administrative, financial, legal, and language barriers in accessing the health system. They are the ones who are the first to lose their jobs or livelihood, as they are often concentrated in precarious and informal work.

Suspension of asylum claims need to be lifted. PSI welcomes the Biden administration’s increased quota for hosting refugees. Yet this is only the beginning. While on the contrary, in Europe, there is a deeply concerning trend of a number of countries externalizing their borders, thereby contracting out their humanitarian and human rights obligations to third countries based on an unequal relationship of using trade, aid or vaccine access in exchange for migration control. This is completely unacceptable.

The impact of the pandemic continues to unfold, leaving a profound impact on our economies and societies. Unless we truly learn from our lesson that well-funded, adequately staffed and resourced public services are critical to withstanding pandemics and other crises, we will only be repeating the mistakes of the neoliberal ideology of the past.

Moreover, we need to genuinely recognize and value our health and care workers, who include among them migrants and refugees with health backgrounds. Our health and care workers must be protected, valued and adequately remunerated. We need to ensure the integrity and sustainability of our public health systems if we are to reach our goal of universal health coverage, an important component of which is to reach out to the farthest behind first.