Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees in a Time of Pandemic – A Global Challenge

By COL Arcangelo Moro, Italian Army, US Central Command: Strategy Plans and Policy Directorate; Combined Strategic Analysis Group
24 Aug 2020


Problems facing IDPs include gender-based violence, reduced access to food and healthcare, and increased social tensions. In Syria, the ongoing conflict has created a massive refugee crisis, and the situation remains a precarious one. In Yemen, the conflict has created the largest humanitarian disaster, only exacerbated by the pandemic.  The international community is urged to increase efforts to improve the lives of these communities, with recommendations to CENTCOM also offered.

Key Points:

  • Due to conflicts and natural disasters, the number of IDPs has reached the record figure of 50 million, far exceeding the number of refugees, which, in 2019, was around 19.8 million.
  • A third of IDPs/refugees are located in the Central Region.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the already dramatic situation of people fleeing conflict zone or in IDP/refugee camps, and especially this of fragile categories such as women, children, and elderly people.
  • Due to the pandemic, the humanitarian crisis could easily turn into a humanitarian disaster.
  • Humanitarian support and assistance must focus on lifesaving needs, improve the resilience of people and communities (including that of host countries), and promote community stability by addressing the root causes of conflicts at the local level.
  • A firm political commitment at the highest level is deemed urgent to mobilize national, regional and global actors. The current situation demands the implementation of an effective international coordination and cooperation to ensure maximum synergy between all actors. The UN institutions could be a natural
  • C2 center or hub, capable of synchronizing all efforts to finalize the political, financial and economic objectives set.
  • Financial support to all the countries involved is not sufficient to guarantee greater timeliness, predictability, coherence, and effectiveness of the aid, which must be oriented towards local initiatives with sustainable solutions towards those at the forefront.
  • The ability to collect data in quantitative, qualitative and assistance analysis and progress made on IDPs/Refugees appears limited and needs to be implemented with the sharing of best practices.
  • Access to resettlement remains a priority with complementary paths, in terms of safe, voluntary, and dignified repatriation.
  • Sanctions can undermine the ability of countries that are engaged in IDPs/refugees management and prevent access to food, essential health and medical supplies, especially in a time of pandemic (Syria, Iran, Turkey, etc.).


Today, the problem of IDPs and refugees is exacerbated by the COVID 19 pandemic which, due to its severity and geographical spreading, has reshuffled humanitarian priorities that still plague millions of people yet, thus relegating international essential initiatives and investments to save lives at the bottom of national political agendas. However, one cannot turn away from acute humanitarian emergencies because today’s unsolved problems risk backfiring, at higher and likely unsustainable costs, in a near future. As His Holiness Pope Francis stated, the answer to the current challenges could lie in four verbs, i.e. “welcome, protect, promote and integrate,” thanks to the rediscovery of the true meaning of humanity, which goes far beyond the political, religious, racial or gender dimensions.

Read the entire paper here.

The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.