Aisha Khalil, 104, a Syrian refugee living in Zaatari Refugee Camp is pictured with UNHCR Health Officer, Iyad Shytiat while receiving the COVID-19 Vaccine at the Mafraq Chest and Disease Centre. © UNHCR/Mohammad Hawari
As COVID-19 vaccines start getting rolled out around the world, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, calls for refugees, internally displaced, and stateless people to be included in national vaccination strategies. Given that at least 70 per cent of a population need to be vaccinated in order to sustainably slow the virus, according to public health reasoning, keeping the most vulnerable safe means keeping everyone safe.
UNHCR is actively involved in discussions with COVAX (co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance), the global initiative to ensure that low-income countries get access to the vaccine. As a result of these efforts, UNHCR and Gavi on 3 February 2021 announced a strengthening of their collaboration to bolster immunization efforts among refugees, internally displaced, and stateless people.
“The vast majority of the world’s refugees are hosted in low and middle-income countries. The international community must do more to support host governments with access to the vaccines. Global and equitable access is what will ultimately protect lives and stem the pandemic,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
There are already positive examples of refugees being included in national vaccination plans from more than 50 countries.
On 14 January 2021, Raia Alkabasi, an Iraqi refugee, became the first UNHCR-registered refugee in Jordan to be vaccinated. All residents of Jordan, including refugees and asylum-seekers, are included in the country’s national vaccination plan.
Jordan is a major refugee-hosting country, with one in 16 people having been forcibly displaced. The pandemic has had a severe socio-economic impact on vulnerable groups in the country, with poverty among refugees increasing by 18 per cent after March 2020.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Jordan has shown great leadership by including refugees in its national response plan.
Earlier this month, Colombia made the decision to provide ten-year temporary protection to the 1.7 million Venezuelans in the country. The regularization of Venezuelan refugees and migrants provides added protection, safety and support, and gives them access to Colombia’s vaccination plan.
The political and socio-economic crisis in Venezuela has led to the largest exodus in Latin American modern history. More than 37 per cent of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the region are hosted in Colombia.
Linda Ilanjian, a 90-year old Syrian refugee, became one of the first refugees to be vaccinated in Greece. On 5 February 2021, she received the vaccine at Athens General Hospital.
Greece hosts approximately 120,000 asylum-seekers and migrants, including 4,200 children who arrived in the country alone or were separated from their families along the journey. The Greek Ministry of Health has confirmed that refugees and asylum-seekers will be included in the national COVID-19 response.
Millions of refugees, internally displaced, and stateless people are enduring hardships linked to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to public health concerns, the socio-economic impact of the pandemic has led to many refugees losing their jobs and livelihoods.
UNHCR launched its Coronavirus Emergency Appeal in May 2020 to meet the exceptional COVID-19-related needs. To date, the Nordic and Baltic countries have contributed with more than USD 21 million to UNHCR’s efforts against the coronavirus pandemic.