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By Kristy Siegfried | 26 March, 2020


UN launches US$2 billion global plan to fight COVID-19. Top UN officials on Wednesday launched a US$2 billion appeal to help some of the world’s most vulnerable countries tackle the coronavirus pandemic. As COVID-19 begins to gain a foothold in countries already in the midst of humanitarian crises caused by conflicts and natural disasters, the new global response plan will aim to contain the spread of the virus, support fragile health systems and assist “the ultra-vulnerable” – those least able to protect themselves, including refugees, internally displaced people and migrants. “COVID-19 is menacing the whole of humanity,” said UN-Secretary General António Guterres. “And so, the whole of humanity must fight back. Individual country responses are not going to be enough.” The interagency plan brings together existing appeals and identifies new emergency needs in public health, logistics and socio-economic support. It includes US$255 million that UNHCR is seeking to curb the impact of the pandemic on refugees, internally displaced people and the communities hosting them. The funding would cover UNHCR’s additional budgetary needs over the next nine months and allow it to install handwashing stations in camps and settlements, launch public information campaigns and deliver laboratory equipment and medical supplies to test and treat people with the virus. UN officials at Wednesday’s launch urged donors not to divert funding from existing relief projects, but to find other resources.

Germany taps refugee and migrant medics to battle virus. Reuters reports that Germany is facing a shortage of medical staff to battle the coronavirus. In Saxony, the regional medical board is advertising for migrant doctors who do not yet have a license to practice medicine in Germany. By Monday, 300 people had responded to its Facebook appeal, including “many foreign doctors whose licensing procedures are not yet completed, whose help is very welcome”. In the UK, hundreds of refugee doctors have called on the government and the General Medical Council to fast-track their accreditation so they can help the National Health Service tackle the pandemic. During a parliamentary debate on Monday, the health secretary said he would discuss a proposal to expedite qualified doctors from overseas into the NHS. The Irish Medical Council has also said that refugees and asylum-seekers who trained as doctors and nurses in their home countries, but are not registered to work in Ireland, may be able to provide “essential support” during the coronavirus pandemic.


Countries urged to protect immigration detainees from coronavirus. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday called on governments to take urgent action to protect the health and safety of people in detention, including those in immigration detention, as part of efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. She said authorities should look at ways to release those particularly vulnerable to the virus and reduce the number of people in detention. Meanwhile, the UK has released 350 people from immigration detention centres in recent days. The Home Office told a High Court hearing on Wednesday that it is working around the clock to assess the cases of other detainees. The court heard that detainees in three facilities have displayed symptoms of COVID-19. The Australian government has also come under pressure this week to release asylum-seekers and migrants from detention centres.

Fears of fresh fighting in Syria’s Idlib as coronavirus threat looms. The Times reports that rocket fire was exchanged on Tuesday between government and opposition forces in the Jabal al-Zawiya and Saraqeb areas of Idlib on the same day that the UN special envoy for Syria called for an immediate nationwide ceasefire to enable an “all-out-effort” to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Under the terms of a ceasefire deal agreed by Russia and Turkey earlier this month, the M4 and M5 highways were supposed to be cleared and patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops, but convoys have failed in two attempts to move down the M4. The standoff comes as aid agencies and doctors warn that COVID-19 could bring an unparalleled health crisis to Syria’s north-west, where many medical facilities have been destroyed and fighting displaced nearly one million people in the first three months of this year.

What the coronavirus means for Jordan and its refugee population. Jordan has imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the world to contain the spread of the coronavirus, with residents facing arrest if they leave home. Small food shops and pharmacies have limited opening hours while most other shops are closed. Conor de Lion, a special advisor to HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan of Jordan, writes for MarketWatch that in the COVID-19 pandemic, the fates of over 650,000 Syrian are intertwined with their Jordanian hosts. Jordan’s Ministry of Health currently provides refugees with vaccinations, family planning and secondary health care, but will need more international assistance to cope with the burden of COVID-19. Refugees unable to work during the lockdown will also need more assistance with food and other basics. The Guardian reports that most Syrian refugees confined to their homes cannot afford to stockpile weeks of food.

Libya fighting escalates as coronavirus arrives in the country. Battles erupted around Tripoli on Wednesday following intensified bombardment of the Libyan capital, despite international pleas for a ceasefire to tackle the coronavirus. Residents told Reuters the shelling was the worst in weeks. Over the weekend, Libya’s warring parties had responded positively to calls by the UN for a humanitarian pause in fighting to address the COVID-19 threat. Health authorities confirmed the first COVID-19 case in the country on Tuesday. The escalation in fighting could spell disaster for the ability of Libya’s already fragmented and badly stretched health system to handle the coronavirus. “Libyans have suffered for years under this brutal conflict, and now they face yet another threat to their health and wellbeing,” said Elizabeth Hoff, the World Health Organization representative in Libya.


Sam Dally, an Iraqi refugee who runs a commercial cleaning business in Perth, is one of the fortunate few in Australia at the moment who has a surplus of toilet paper. Left with an oversupply due to cancellations resulting from the coronavirus, he plans to donate around 3,000 toilet paper rolls and 500 packets of hand towels to a local food bank charity which is low on supplies.


More than three-quarters of the world’s 25.9 million refugees live in developing countries, many of them with weak health systems.