Highlights by country
• UNHCR has modified ongoing activities to ensure protection services can continue during the pandemic. Interventions for persons with specific needs and cash assistance programs for refugees have been modified to enable case assessment by phone. In addition, Community Based Protection Monitoring is now primarily conducted through household-level interviews rather than focus group discussions. UNHCR has also developed a COVID-19 questionnaire together with the Protection Cluster to assess the impact of, and needs due to, the pandemic.
• The Government of Afghanistan and the UN are preparing for the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine across the country, including the development of a National Vaccine Deployment Plan. According to OCHA, while GAVI had provided funding through the COVAX facility to cover vaccine costs for up to 20 per cent of the population, the World Bank and Asia Development Bank have recently committed to provide funds to cover an additional 40 per cent of the population. The World Bank also approved two grants totalling to USD 85 million for Afghanistan. The two grants aims to (1) improve access to and quality of water supply in Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat and strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Corporation to deliver sustainable services and contribute to national efforts to manage COVID-19 and other disasters; and (2) improve the delivery of core infrastructure, emergency support, and social services to communities through strengthened Community Development Councils.
Islamic Republic of Iran
• Refugee children continue to study from home. In view of connectivity issues and lack of sufficient ICT equipment, UNHCR procured some 21,500 tablets for distribution to vulnerable refugee and host community schoolchildren in refugee hosting areas.
• Refugees living in urban settings can access testing and treatment at MoH designated 16-hour centers – those enrolled in universal public health insurance only have to pay 10% of the treatment cost at MoH-affiliated hospitals, while others will pay a fee similar to Iranian nationals. While refugees have access to treatment in private hospitals in principle, this is not covered by UPHI and hence is prohibitively expensive.
• The cost of housing has been one of the major challenges faced by refugees. Given the loss of income and the absence of job opportunities due to the pandemic, refugees report being obliged to move to remote areas with cheaper prices.
• Cash distribution to the most vulnerable refugee families concluded on 31 December 2020. In total, 75,104 refugee families have received assistance, which mirrors the Government’s Ehsaas emergency cash program. Vulnerable refugee families received Rs.12,000 (approximately $77) to cover a four-month period. Cash assistance was disbursed in 55 districts and 54 refugee villages across Pakistan through an innovative partnership with the Pakistan Post.
• COVID-related health problems the government-run health facilities and major hospitals remain open and accessible to persons of concern in Pakistan. A second wave of COVID-19 started in late October and peaked between November and mid-December. During this period, Pakistan reported around 3,500 new cases a day with steep increase in hospitalization and mortality and hospital capacity under strain. However, in last two weeks of January, case numbers started to decline to their current level of less than 2,000 per day. Health facilities in all the refugee villages are functional.
• Registration, documentation issuance and distribution are currently suspended in the country office Islamabad as a precautionary measure to prevent COVID-19. The country office is only processing urgent or emergency cases.