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Refugee victims of modern slavery struggling to cope during pandemic

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COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic is devastating already vulnerable refugees and internally displaced people around the world, a new study warned on Monday. 

The report from the University of Birmingham, which includes witness testimonies from over 90 survivors and service providers across the world, reveals the ways in which the pandemic is exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and traumas.

Many refugee victims of trafficking find themselves isolated with their traffickers, with a high risk of abuse and no access to shelters, public funds, legal work, and other key lifelines.

Undocumented migrants, in particular, risk suffering unnoticed because the fear of deportation prevents many from seeking help.

The report also noted that in some countries, service providers said that the negative economic consequences of the pandemic were increasing the risk of forced child marriage.

The lead author of the report, Jenny Phillimore, warned that some women and children in refugee communities are “entirely destitute and reliant on the generosity of neighbors.”

The Guardian reports:

Tracy, 26, a Nigerian survivor of trafficking who lives in an International Organization for Migration shelter in Tunisia with her husband, Endurance, described life as becoming “unbearably difficult” since the beginning of the pandemic.

The couple, who have irregular immigration status, are struggling to feed themselves, saying they are on the verge of starvation.

“The life here in this pandemic is so hard, especially for us, the migrants. They gave us just 30 dinar [£8] to eat for seven days but that can’t even feed us for two days, so now we only eat once a day. It is very difficult and we have no one,” said Tracy.

The mental health of refugee victims and survivors of modern slavery is a further matter of grave concern, with the report noting increases in anxiety, insomnia, and suicidal ideation.

With in-person therapeutic services canceled, and digital poverty limiting access to these resources online, many refugees find themselves with nowhere to turn.

It is crucial that governments act now to mitigate the drastically increased modern slavery risk the pandemic is causing. Read Freedom United’s new call to action to find out more.

Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.

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