“If ever we needed reminding that we live in an interconnected world, the novel coronavirus has brought that home.”
These words, coming from UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, express what the world has been experiencing over the last months: the coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, knows no borders, no language barriers. It threatens everyone on this planet – including refugees and other displaced people.
And it can only be tackled if we all, as one global community, work together and demonstrate solidarity. Because what this global coronavirus outbreak has undeniably demonstrated, is that the health of every person is linked to the health of the most marginalized and vulnerable members in a society. And these members often include refugees, stateless people and internally displaced people.
How does UNHCR help refugees and internally displaced people in the fight against the coronavirus?
We've scaled up our work to keep refugees and internally displaced people safe by responding to the coronavirus with life-saving support, including water, medical care and hygiene materials. We help monitor the spread of the outbreak and take action to limit infections. Wherever possible, we boost public health and hygiene in areas hosting displaced people, including airlifting emergency supplies and establishing isolation units.
We support communication efforts through existing and newly built community networks and offer guidance and fact-based information on prevention measures, such as handwashing, social distancing, isolation from infected people and where to access health-care services. We are also distributing shelter material and core relief items and are expanding cash assistance to help mitigate the negative socio-economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. We try to ensure that the rights and protection of forcibly displaced people are respected, including the right to seek asylum despite border closures. We work with partners on the ground to offer psychosocial counseling as well as measurements to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence.
But the needs are growing and we cannot do this alone
UNHCR is seeking US$745 million to help priority countries hosting large populations of refugees prevent and respond to the coronavirus. “The worst of crises requires the best of humanity,” said the High Commissioner. “Now is the time for action. We can prevent the disease from spreading. With your support, we can save lives.”
How does the coronavirus outbreak affect refugees?
Refugees and other displaced people belong to the most marginalized and vulnerable members of society. They are particularly at risk during this coronavirus disease outbreak because they often have limited access to water, sanitation systems and health facilities.
Over 80 per cent of the world’s refugees and nearly all the world’s internally displaced people are hosted in low- and middle-income countries. They frequently face specific challenges and vulnerabilities that must be taken into consideration in COVID-19 readiness and response operations. Keeping the most vulnerable safe means keeping everyone safe.