TORONTO -- Advocates are calling for a tailored humanitarian response effort for refugee women and girls, who they say now face a “triple crisis”: displacement, gender-based violence and COVID-19.

Since the global pandemic shuttered schools across many countries, more than eight million refugee children are facing an increased threat of infection and child labour out of the relative safety of the classroom.

Women and girls are especially vulnerable, said Tanjina Mirza, Plan International Canada’s chief programs officer and interim co-CEO.

“A lot of girls may not pass through this,” Mirza told CTV National News. “They may be married off because that’s one less mouth to feed.”

On Friday, Plan International Canada released a report on what it called the “layered crises and heightened risks” faced by refugee women and girls.

“This is a triple crisis: the crisis of displacement, the COVID-19 pandemic and the risks they experience simply because they are young and female,” Mirza said in a Friday statement. “It’s imperative that their unique needs and rights are addressed in global and local COVID-19 responses. In addition, we need to hear the voices and solutions of those impacted—nothing should be decided without them.”

For an estimated 77 million refugees, crowded camps and close quarters are a starker reality amid the global pandemic, as is infection control when soap and fresh water are a scarce resource. In Syria, families weigh the risks of bombings against the coronavirus, which has infected close to 200 people there, according to official numbers. The country, where a nine-year civil war still rages, is home to more than 16 million people, most of whom live in poverty. 

Food insecurity has spiked in many regions where refugee women are increasingly unable to cultivate land due to travel restrictions. Some 25 per cent of refugee women are the heads of households and depend on acquiring and farming land outside of their communities to feed their families, according to the Plan International Canada report. As is the case in many countries, the threat of domestic violence has also risen for refugee women and girls who are in crowded camps and homes more than before.

With travel restricted to contain the spread of COVID-19, countries that may have been a safe haven for displaced families have closed their borders to new arrivals. While more immigrants came to Canada in the first quarter of 2020 than the same period in 2019, the numbers dropped significantly in April, according to a new report by the Association for Canadian Studies. Since then, the Canadian government allocated some $86.5 million to support international partners, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

But advocates say it won’t be enough as the need for aid increases amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The response so far has been pretty low and slow and we really need to see an acceleration of this commitment,” said Severine Meyer, a senior manager of emergencies and humanitarian assistance at Plan International Canada