The needs of migrant and displaced children living are acute, immediate and demand action. The global spread of COVID-19 threatens to further erode these children’s already precarious existence. At the launch of the global humanitarian response plan for COVID-19,[i] UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that those in internal displacement are among the “ultra-vulnerable”. UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore has called children the “hidden victims” of the coronavirus. “For children on the move or living through conflicts, the consequences will be unlike any we have ever seen,” she said. “We must not let them down.”[ii]

In 2019, around 33 million children were living outside of their country of birth. In total, at the end of 2018 over 31 million children were living in forced displacement due to violence and conflict within their own country or abroad.[iii] This includes some 13 million child refugees, around 1 million asylum-seeking children, and an estimated 17 million children displaced within their own countries. It is estimated that around 3.7 million child refugees live in camps or collective centers.[iv]

Many of these children face acute deprivations in their access to school, health care, clean water and protective services. Although there is only limited data on the impact of COVID-19 on migrant and displaced children, it is clear that the virus threatens to exacerbate their already precarious existence and bring even more uncertainty and potential harm to their lives. Migrant and displaced children and their families, regardless of their migration status, may have limited access to public health services, or fear accessing them. They may also be excluded from public information programming or lack the financial means to manage periods of self-isolation or quarantine or seek health care. Misinformation on the spread of COVID-19 has intensified the xenophobia and discrimination that migrant and displaced children and their families already face.

The COVID-19 pandemic is highly likely to have broad-ranging, long-term humanitarian and socioeconomic impacts on migrant and displaced children. Many stand to lose the right of legal processes that protect them from harm; the security and stability of regular income; access to vital health care and services; time in the classroom; and protection from exploitation, abuse and violence. The ripple effects of these deprivations remain to be seen but will likely continue to harm children for a long time to come. Sound policies and urgent actions are needed to put migrant and displaced children at the forefront of preparedness, prevention and response to COVID-19 – to ensure health, safety, and protection for all today and for the long term.

Resources on COVID-19 and migration and displacement

UNICEF continues to monitor and report on this pandemic’s impact on children. Please find below additional resources on COVID-19 and migrant and displaced children. This list is to be updated as new resources become available.

Portals, dashboards and websites on migration and displacement and COVID-19

Data on country responses to Covid19 relevant to migrant and displaced children

Selected other useful information and reports


[i] United Nations, UN launches major humanitarian appeal to keep COVID-19 from ‘circling back around the globe’, March 25, 2020.

[ii] United Nations Children’s Fund, ‘A global approach is the only way to fight COVID-19, the UN says as it launches humanitarian response plan’, Press release, UNICEF, New York, 30 March 2020.

[iii] United Nations Children’s Fund, ‘Child Displacement’, Accessed April 24, 2020.

[iv] Data for end of 2018; UNICEF analysis based on United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Global Trends 2018, Geneva 2019.