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Uprooted 70 million at risk in virus spread

The coronavirus pandemic threatens to disproportionately harm more than 70 million people who have been forcibly displaced by wars and violent crises.

WASHINGTON (AN) — The global coronavirus pandemic threatens to disproportionately harm more than 70 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced by wars and violent crises, Refugees International said on Monday.

Healthcare systems in even the most advanced countries are being overwhelmed by the pandemic, the global advocacy organization emphasized. Among the most vulnerable are refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people struggling to meet basic needs.

Overcrowding at refugee camps, lack of shelter and aid stoppages exacerbate the lack of health care or sanitation, according to Refugees International, which noted that many nations are "turning inward" rather than welcoming immigrants and asylum seekers.

"These populations must be included in the global response to the virus. This is essential to protecting not only these communities, but societies at large," the group said in a report.

"Already, their displacement leaves them disadvantaged in many ways," it said. "The impact of the epidemic both exacerbates and is exacerbated by the conditions in which they live. A series of factors make them extremely vulnerable to the spread of the virus."

The challenge was underscored by the surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, which rose to more than 785,000 with 37,600 deaths, mostly in the United States, Europe, China and Iran, according to two Johns Hopkins University and Google data trackers.

Interconnectedness vs. border closuresThe pandemic shows just how deeply interconnected the world has become, despite the move by some nations to close their borders as the coronavirus spreads.

The World Health Organization released guidelines on Monday to help nations keep essential health services operating despite heavy demands on health workers and facilities.

“The best defense against any outbreak is a strong health system,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized. “COVID-19 is revealing how fragile many of the world’s health systems and services are, forcing countries to make difficult choices on how to best meet the needs of their people.”

WHO's updated operational planning guidelines include a set of targeted immediate actions for countries to reorganize and maintain universal access to key health services, such as routine vaccination, reproductive health services and care of young infants and older adults.

The guidelines stress the importance of up-to-date information, which requires "frequent transparent communications with the public, and strong community engagements."

Some of the most urgent situations are 3 million Afghans living in Iran and 24 million displaced people and refugees living in Africa, Refugees International reported. Europe, particularly virus-hit Italy and Spain, increasingly shuns immigrants and asylum seekers.

“Meanwhile, nationalist leaders and politicians throughout the region — including in Italy and Spain — have seized upon the outbreak as a false basis for xenophobic, anti-refugee rhetoric and policies,” the international organization said.The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, said in a special message on Monday that the pandemic requires political leaders and all humanity to use "science and human ingenuity," applied with determination, courage and empathy for the most vulnerable populations.

"I understand that as a result of the necessary lockdowns across the world, many people are facing tremendous hardship due to a loss of livelihood," he said in a statement. "For those with no stable income life is a daily struggle for survival. I earnestly appeal to all concerned to do everything possible to care for the vulnerable members of our communities."