The African continent has some of the lowest vaccination rates, weakest healthcare systems and most fragile local economies in the world. The impact of COVID-19 has created unsustainable living conditions for millions, particularly those who are already facing ongoing conflicts within their communities. Additionally, COVID-19 resulted in the slashing of many aid budgets, leaving many with no choice but to attempt perilous and lengthy migration routes through North Africa into Europe.
One of the most popular migration routes is through Libya. Individuals arriving from as far afield as the Horn of Africa, some 4,000 km distant, arrive in Libya in the hope of reaching Europe across the Mediterranean. Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan have weathered COVID-19 poorly, with local economics already made fragile by drought and internal conflicts, resulting in increased migration from the worst affected areas.
For those already on migration routes, the anticipated high impact on refugee and migrant populations of disproportionate COVID-19 deaths and hospitalisations, whether in camps or en route, has not been reported. Rather, tightened border restrictions and use of COVID-19 as a reason to reduce asylum intake in European countries has had a significantly greater impact on the migrant journey. Even after economic conditions improve, the growing tide of anti-refugee sentiment in Europe will see public health measures to limit migrant arrivals maintained.