Refugees cannot be abandoned to coronavirus infection

PHOTO CREDIT: UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

GENEVA – To date there have been no reports of COVID-19 infections among refugees and asylum seekers, but the health of the 20 million refugees around the world remains of central concern, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The UNHCR are seeking an initial 33 million dollars to boost their preparedness and prevention efforts

  “To date and based on available evidence, there have been no reports of COVID-19 infections among refugees and asylum seekers. However, the virus can affect anyone, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that the global response includes all people,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

  UNHCR is also looking at issues such as adequate access to clean water, waste disposal, soap in health facilities, collective shelters, and the wider community and training of staff to ensure infection control in health centres.

  More than 70 million people around the world have been forced by persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations to flee their homes. Of those, more than 20 million are refugees, of whom 84 per cent are being hosted by low or middle-income nations which naturally have weaker health and water and sanitation systems, and whose services on site are overstretched or poorly-resourced.

  The health and well-being of refugees and humanitarian personnel working with them are central to the efforts of global health bodies, and the UNHCR has called on nation states to ensure the rights of refugees are respected regardless of freedom of movement restrictions being imposed.

  Collaboration between nation states and international organisations is key to fighting the virus, with the UNHCR conducting epidemiological surveillance, reporting, contact-tracing, and investigating alerts at refugee sites.

  UNHCR have also made efforts to strengthen communications with refugee communities, particularly regarding hygiene and sanitation measures. 

  The UNHCR’s response to the coronavirus epidemic builds on its previous experience in SARS, Ebola, and influenza outbreaks, and the measures taken to protect refugees before, during, and after, global health emergencies.

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