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Protecting refugees from COVID-19: Identifying barriers to safer practices during humanitarian assistance in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon (from the Minimizing COVID-19 Spread in Refugee Humanitarian Interventions Project, May 2021)


Authors: Stephanie J. Nawyn, Ezgi Karaoğlu, Stephen P. Gasteyer, Adnan Hammad, Mahmoud Durid, Ali Ghassani, Rania Mansour, and Ayat Nashwan.


To improve the safety of refugees during the COVID-19 pandemic, humanitarian NGOs have instituted safety protocols to minimize the risk of infection spread during services to refugees. For those humanitarian NGOs, it is imperative to understand when protocols are not followed, what the possible barriers to adherence are, and how those barriers can be overcome. This study aimed to address these questions and provide guidance and recommendations for humanitarian stakeholders.

Through a collaboration between university researchers and humanitarian assistance providers, we collected data on refugees’ and staff’s adherence to safety protocols (social distancing, mask wearing, and hand hygiene measured as hand washing and using hand sanitizer) through interviews with NGO staff and non-participant observations during service provision. The NGOs operated in three countries (Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey) and provided a variety of services to different refugee populations.

This research identified several key findings:

  • All NGOs instituted safety protocols designed to reduce the risk of infection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but adherence to those protocols varied by type of service, refugee population served, and type of safety protocol.

  • Adherence to protocols was better in contexts that staff and refugees likely felt were riskier, and worse in context that staff and refugees felt safer.

  • Resource availability was a barrier to protocol adherence in some situations, but having resources available did not always equate to those resources being used.

  • The explosion in Beirut, while destroying significant infrastructure and causing additional strain on assistance not to mention loss of life, had only a marginal effect on COVID-19 safety protocol adherence.

  • Skepticism about the existence or seriousness of COVID-19 is apparent among refugee beneficiaries and even a small number of staff; this might be a barrier not just to better protocol adherence but may inhibit refugees’ willingness to be vaccinated.

Please use the following format for citing this report: Nawyn, Stephanie J., Ezgi Karaoğlu, Stephen P. Gasteyer, Adnan Hammad, Mahmoud Durid, Ali Ghassani, Rania Mansour, and Ayat Nashwan (May 2021). “Protecting Refugees from COVID-19: Identifying Barriers to Safer Practices during Humanitarian Assistance in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.” Minimizing COVID-19 Spread in Refugee Humanitarian Settings Comprehensive Report.