PFMH Action Hub on COVID-19 and Displacement

An initiative of the Program on Forced Migration and Health

Public Health Voices

Letter to Acting HHS Secretary Cochran and CDC Director Walensky

In tandem with previous letters, nearly 100 public health experts sent a letter to the Biden Administration, urging for the rescission of the order that has authorized border expulsions, a discriminatory policy with that poses a significant threat to public health and has no scientific basis. The letter references a set of recommendations for an alternative approach, put together by a coalition of public health experts and actors. This letter was also cited by CBS News.

Public Health Recommendations for Processing Families, Children, and Adults Seeking Asylum or Other Protection at the Border

PFMH, alongside leading epidemiologists and public health experts, issued recommendations on public health measures that could be enacted at borders in order to protect public health and the lives of people seeking asylum. The recommendations follow letters signed by public health experts, which urge the revocation of policies that expel children, families and adults seeking asylum. The full recommendations can be found here. A press release on the recommendations can be found here

Letter to Acting DHS Secretary Chad F. Wolf and Attorney General William Barr on the Trump Administration’s July 9th proposed rule

More than 170 U.S. public health and medical professionals sent a letter to the Trump Administration opposing the July 9th proposed rule on asylum to explain why the rule will not protect the public and instead undermine public health. PFMH and Human Rights First developed a primer on the public health dimensions of the July 9th proposed rule. The letter was cited by CBS News.

Letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert R. Redfield on the March 20th CDC Order

The letter, signed by more than 40 senior U.S. public health and medical experts, opposed the now indefinite March 20th CDC order that used COVID-19 to effectively ban asylum seekers seeking entry to the U.S. The letter was cited by CNN, ABC News, and the Wall Street Journal.


COVID-19, Forced Displacement, and Health – Research from the PFMH-led Consortium on Big Questions in Forced Displacement and Health

PFMH leads a research consortium with the American University of Beirut, Brandeis University, Georgetown University, and Universidad de los Andes to contribute to the knowledge on health systems in protracted displacement settings. As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, PFMH and partners have produced a series of knowledge briefs at the intersection of COVID-19, forced displacement, and health. Forthcoming briefs include preventing and mitigating indirect health impacts of COVID-19 in humanitarian settings, preventing family violence in the context of COVID-19 and forced displacement, and addressing human capital dimensions of COVID-19 in forced displacement settings. 

The first knowledge brief, which highlights lessons from past epidemics, novel approaches, and resources to prevent and mitigate indirect health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on displaced populations, was recently released. Stay tuned for the upcoming release of knowledge briefs on COVID-19 and family violence in displacement settings, human capital dimensions of the COVID-19 response in forced displacement settings, and more.

Protecting Asylum in the United States

PFMH has worked alongside legal, humanitarian, medical, and public health experts to develop guidance and promote action to balance maintaining access to asylum with public health considerations. PFMH and partners have generated a series of documents outlining the current evidence:

  • More than 170 US public health and medical professionals signed a letter to the Trump Administration regarding the July 9th proposed rule. Read the letter here.

  • PFMH and Human Rights First developed a primer on the public health aspects of the July 9th rule. Read the primer here.

  • More than 40 public health experts signed a letter to the Trump Administration regarding the March 20th CDC Order. Read the letter here.

  • PFMH and partners developed recommendations which could be applied at the US Southern Border. Read the full guidance document here

To watch a July 2020 webinar on the public health aspects of the Trump’s Administration July 9th proposed rule, click here.

Commentary in Nature Medicine: COVID-19 in Humanitarian Settings and Lessons Learned from Past Epidemics

In a commentary published in Nature Medicine, PFMH faculty and staff reflect on lessons learned from past epidemics to inform the COVID-19 pandemic response in humanitarian settings. They write, “The rapid global spread of a novel coronavirus has taught us that we are all interconnected in terms of our health and well-being. Displaced populations, including refugees and migrants, are often the first to be stigmatized and unjustly blamed for the spread of disease, yet they are also among the most vulnerable people during a pandemic—to both the virus itself and the measures enacted to control it [….] In the age of COVID-19, protecting the most vulnerable among us is not just a moral imperative but an urgent public health objective: the health of one is the health of all.” Read the full commentary here.

Comment in the Lancet: Centring sexual and reproductive health and justice in the global COVID-19 response

PFMH faculty Drs. Goleen Samari, Sara Casey, and Rachel Moresky joined their colleagues in the Department of Population and Family Health in this comment published in the Lancet. The authors highlight the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic intersects with existing sexual and reproductive health and justice inequities, drawing on lessons learned from past epidemics and humanitarian settings to inform the current response. For more information about this comment in the Lancet, please see the press release here.

Concept Paper in AEM Education and Training: COVID‐19 Pandemic Prompts a Paradigm Shift in Global Emergency Medicine: Multidirectional Education and Remote Collaboration

Dr. Rachel T. Moresky, Director of Columbia University’s Global Emergency Medicine Fellowship and sidHARTe - Strengthening Emergency System, coauthors this concept paper with several other colleagues to highlight best practices in global emergency medicine (GEM) training, with a focus on multidirectional education and remote collaboration in the setting of COVID-19. This work highlights pertinent thematic areas for continued implementation of impactful GEM programming within the confines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the full concept paper here.


The COVID-19 Blame Game Threatens Us All

Commentary written by PFMH Director Professor Monette Zard and Open Society Foundations Director of International Migration Initiative Gregory Maniatis published in Project Syndicate. 6 March 2020. Read the full commentary here.

Making America Sick Again: How Anti-Immigrant Measures Will Worsen the Coronavirus Pandemic

Opinion piece written by PFMH faculty Dr. Goleen Samari published in the New York Daily News. 30 March 2020. Read the full piece here.

What COVID-19 Means for Immigrants’ Reproductive Health

Op-Ed piece written by PFMH faculty Dr. Goleen Samari and Dr. Sheila Desai of the Guttmacher Institute published in Colorlines. 26 June 2020. Read the full op-ed here.

Virus Puts Global Health Inequality in the Spotlight

The World Today of Australian ABC Radio News and Current Affairs spoke with PFMH faculty Dr. Patrick Kachur. 16 July 2020. Listen to the full interview here.

Also of Interest

PFMH faculty have actively engaged in the broader discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic response. Some of their work includes:

"Institutional Failures in COVID-19" written by Dr. Les Roberts for Think Global Health (18 November 2020).

"Loss for everyone as CDC's standing erodes" written by Dr. Les Roberts for The Hill (17 October 2020).

“‘Long-haul’ covid-19 complications are real. I faced similar problems after surviving Ebola” written by Dr. Craig Spencer for The Washington Post (19 September 2020).

“Epidemiologist: New Yorkers’ coronavirus response sets an example for the world (Commentary)” written by Dr. Les Roberts for (29 April 2020).

“This Doctor Was Vilified After Contracting Ebola. Now He Sees History Repeating Itself With Coronavirus” featuring Dr. Craig Spencer for TIME (4 February 2020). 

See more media coverage

For more media coverage, please visit the Program on Forced Migration and Health website


Disease Surveillance and Refugees, Migrants, and other Marginalized Groups

As part of a webinar series hosted by the Committee on Forced Migration, an initiative of the Columbia Global Centers, PFMH Director Monette Zard moderated a discussion with Mesfin Teklu Tessema, Petra Molnar, and Joseph Amon on the promise and challenges of public health surveillance technologies for refugees, migrants, and other marginalized groups during the COVID-19 pandemic (December 2020).

Preventing and Mitigating Indirect Health Impacts of COVID-19 on Displaced Populations in Humanitarian Settings

PFMH faculty Dr. Patrick Kachur and Dr. Les Roberts were joined by Ola Al Tebawi of the International Rescue Committee and Muhammad Amad of the National Humanitarian Network and Institute for Development and Empowerment Axis (IDEA) for this webinar co-hosted by PFMH and ICVA. The webinar was the official launch of a knowledge brief produced as part of "Building the Evidence on Forced Displacement and Health," a project supported by the World Bank, UNHCR, and UKAid (November 2020).

COVID-19, Migration and Human Rights: Impact and Solutions

PFMH Director Professor Monette Zard presents on this expert panel hosted by the Columbia University Institute for the Study of Human Rights, alongside the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and panelists from UNHCR, the UN Human Rights Office, Médecins Sans Frontières and Asociación Salto Ángel (July 2020). 

Weaponizing Public Health to End Asylum in the U.S.

Hosted by PFMH and moderated by Professor Monette Zard, this webinar reviews public health aspects of the Trump Administration’s July 9th proposed rule with experts from Human Rights First, Johns Hopkins University, Physicians for Human Rights, and Global Response Management (July 2020).

Prevention Measures and Management of COVID-19 in Refugee Settings: Local and Global Perspectives

PFMH Faculty Professor Monette Zard and Dr. Goleen Samari and PFMH Senior Program Officer Dr. Ling San Lau join colleagues from the Columbia Global Centers Amman, UNHCR MENA, and the American University of Beirut to discuss the response to COVID-19 in refugee contexts, with particular attention to Jordan and Lebanon (April 2020).

Safeguarding Human Rights in the COVID-19 Tsunami

PFMH Director Monette Zard moderates this webinar on the crucial importance of human rights in the pandemic response, featuring Professor Goleen Samari, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch, and Bruce Shapiro of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma (April 2020).

Before, During & After Flattening the Curve: Decreasing COVID-19 Transmission in Settings with Limited Health Resources

Drs. Rachel T. Moresky and Megan Coffee join several other colleagues in this two-part panel event to discuss the various phases of COVID-19 response in settings with limited health resources. Speakers touch on access to care and equity of care associated with COVID-19 in these settings, as well. The talk is collectively sponsored by the PFMH, the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health, and sidHARTe - Strengthening Emergency Systems.

Stay Informed

Upcoming Events

Please check back for events in January 2021. 

Sign Up to Receive the COVID-19 and Migration Digest

PFMH produces a digest of relevant news media regarding migration and COVID-19. Sign up here to receive the COVID-19 and Migration Digest on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Archived digests are available here.


PFMH has launched a blog to publish faculty, student, and alumni perspectives on COVID-19. Read the blog here.


About the Action Hub on COVID-19 and Displacement

The Program on Forced Migration and Health

The Action Hub on COVID-19 and Displacement is a project of the Columbia University Program on Forced Migration and Health, part of the Mailman School of Public Health’s Department of Population and Family Health. Our faculty have decades of experience working with displaced populations in fragile and conflict-affected settings and have addressed previous epidemics, including Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). They have responded to major conflicts and humanitarian crises globally since 1998, including the Rwandan genocide, the 2003-2011 Iraq war and the conflict in Syria. Our interdisciplinary team includes physicians, lawyers, epidemiologists and demographers, with expertise spanning advocacy, law, medicine and public health. 

COVID-19 and Displacement Hub Funders

We are grateful for our donors, Open Society Foundations and Unbound Philanthropy, who have supported the creation of the Action Hub on COVID-19 and Displacement.

Contact Us

Please contact the Program on Forced Migration and Health with any queries by email.