As the coronavirus pandemic accelerates, claiming thousands of lives each day, those at greatest risk include some 70 million children, women and men uprooted by war and persecution.
Among them are some 25.9 million refugees, more than three quarters of whom live in developing countries in the Americas, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. With weak health systems, some of those countries are already facing humanitarian crises.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is today seeking US$255 million for its urgent push to curb the risk and lessen the impact of COVID-19 outbreaks in these vulnerable communities, as part of a wider UN Global Humanitarian Response Plan seeking US$2.01 billion.
“COVID-19 is menacing the whole of humanity – and so the whole of humanity must fight back. Individual country responses are not going to be enough,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the launch of the global appeal on 01 April.
He added: “We must come to the aid of the ultra-vulnerable – millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves. This is a matter of basic human solidarity. It is also crucial for combating the virus. This is the moment to step up for the vulnerable.”
“COVID-19 is menacing the whole of humanity – and so the whole of humanity must fight back.”
UNHCR is currently responding to 24 displacement crises worldwide, and is working to safeguard those uprooted from their homes as well as the communities that support them.
“As the pandemic spreads, our response must encompass the most vulnerable in our societies, including millions of refugees and others affected by wars, persecution and disasters,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
“They, and the communities hosting them, desperately need our help to stay safe during this global crisis.”
The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating, and there is not a moment to lose. Confirmed cases around the world have passed the 435,000 mark. More than 19,000 people have died – a grim toll that is growing by the hour.
The vital funding sought today will cover UNHCR’s additional budgetary needs for the next nine months in responding to the outbreak.
UNHCR’s response plan will be implemented by UN agencies, with international NGOs and NGO consortia playing a direct role.
With these new funds, UNHCR will deliver essential laboratory equipment to test for the virus, and medical supplies to treat people, and install handwashing stations in camps and settlements.
Funds will also go to launch public information campaigns on how to protect people and those they come in contact with from the virus, and establish air bridges and hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to move humanitarian workers and supplies to where they are needed most.
As the appeal launches, UNHCR is already racing to protect millions of people in its care worldwide, with public health information drives underway from Costa Rica and Colombia to Iran and Bangladesh. Materials have been translated into the languages of the people we help.
Massive efforts are also underway to distribute basic hygiene equipment from soap to face masks, in countries from Lebanon – which hosts around one million refugees from the civil war in Syria – to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, sheltering refugees from conflicts across Africa.
The mission is vital. If we fail to help vulnerable countries fight the coronavirus, it could put millions at risk and leave the virus free to circle back round the globe.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.