UNHCR COVID-19 Preparedness and Response
■ After the deadly and devastating blast in Beirut on 4 August, UNHCR rushes to support the government-led response. The list of more than 200 fatalities also includes at least 34 reported refugee victims so far. The massive explosion adds to the already severe economic crisis that had pushed many Lebanese and refugees deeper into poverty, further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
■ In a press release, UNHCR has called upon states to urgently release refugees and asylumseekers who are being unlawful and arbitrarily held in detention, asking that states act in accordance with international law and that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, vulnerable refugees are not placed at heightened and unnecessary risk.
■ Since the beginning of UNHCR’s COVID-19 response in Southern Africa, almost 1,900 health workers have been trained on COVID-19 prevention and response, nearly 4,400 additional hand washing facilities have been established and over 329,300 households received soap for handwashing to prevent COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for forcibly displaced persons and the humanitarian organizations working to support them. With restrictions on movement and limited access to refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced people (IDPs) and stateless persons across the globe, UNHCR is supporting displaced communities to take the lead in the prevention of, and the response to, the existing and emerging protection needs of women, men, girls and boys of diverse backgrounds. In Uganda, a community engagement strategy for the COVID-19 crisis has been finalized, setting out the roles that refugee communities can play in delivery of critical services and how they can be empowered to undertake these roles, in light of the sometimes limited physical presence of UNHCR and partner workforce at the frontline.
UNHCR also continues awareness raising and protection activities through remote arrangements and enhanced communication with persons of concern. UNHCR’s South Sudan operation has utilised a number of creative means to share public health information and combat misinformation. In collaboration with the government of South Sudan and local partners, information in relation to COVID-19 has been distributed in inclusive forms, such as pictorial materials suitable for children, illiterate persons, and people with communication challenges. In collaboration with Jamjang FM radio station and INTERNEWS, a variety of communication challenges (talk shows, drama, jingles, and songs) have been adapted with health messages, complementing the multifaceted approach.
In Botswana, UNHCR’s partner has engaged both community and religious leaders to educate them about COVID-19 prevention, and also to equip them to share this information with their communities.
Approximately 1,100 refugees have so far been reached through both community outreach such as this, as well as door-to-door awareness-raising. In Tongogara refugee camp, Zimbabwe, UNHCR, partners and the Ministry of Health strengthened COVID-19 awareness among 300 youth and persons with disabilities through structured small group discussions. In addition, the occasion of firewood distribution in the camp presented an opportunity for COVID-19 outreach.