Report on UNHCR’s response to COVID-19 (March - September 2020)

Situation Report
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As of the writing of this report, some 29 million people around the world are confirmed to have suffered from COVID-19. This includes some 25,000 people of concern to UNHCR— that is, refugees and other forcibly displaced and stateless persons in 98 countries, of whom 247 have died. In addition, some 280 UNHCR staff have fallen ill, of whom five have lost their lives. Countless others are suffering from the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, none more so than the millions of forcibly displaced whose lives often depend on employment in the informal sector.

In line with UNHCR’s emergency policy, the High Commissioner declared a global level-2 emergency on 25 March 2020, while the IASC “System-wide scale-up protocols adapted to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic” were endorsed on 17 April 2020. The IASC Scale-Up declaration allowed for a coordinated humanitarian response, while UNHCR’s level-2 emergency declaration allowed it to scale up and adapt its life-saving protection and assistance activities across all regions, prepare and respond to the pandemic across operations worldwide in a coordinated manner, and address the needs of the most vulnerable in close collaboration with governments, partners and people of concern.

Those efforts have had success, where 9.34 million refugees and internally displaced in 151 countries have accessed protection services and over 3.9 million refugees have accessed health services. In many operations,
COVID-19 transmission rates amongst people of concern remain similar or lower than among host communities, a testament to the strength of UNHCR’s risk communication and public health response. Millions of articles of essential equipment such as PPE have been procured, received as in-kind support, shipped and distributed. Cash has proven essential in the response, with $338 million distributed in total.

However, challenges remain. Testing and tracing remains elusive in the many remote areas in which UNHCR operates. While countries have made tremendous efforts to maintain national education programmes through radio, online and on television, including for refugees and internally displaced people, millions of children and youth are out of school due to mandatory school closures, with dramatic long-term consequences, particularly for girls.

In the early days of the pandemic, faced with extraordinary needs, UNHCR reprioritized and reallocated resources to meet the immediate needs of refugees and IDPs. As the crisis progressed, and the scale of additional needs became clearer and were articulated in the Global Humanitarian Response Plan, UNHCR did everything possible to mobilize resources from its donors—both governmental and private—who responded with generous support, including providing $161.2 million in softly earmarked funding. While the scale of global humanitarian needs grew to over $10 billion, UNHCR made deliberate efforts to ensure its appeals remained focused on the most immediate needs of people of concern and of the people who host them, supported through activities which the Office and its network of partners could reasonably undertake.

While UNHCR remained modest in its assessment of needs, it nevertheless continues to suffer a shortfall in funding for its COVID-19 response, amounting to $283 million or 38% of the $745 million required to meet identified needs.
With COVID-19 still a threat to health systems and populations across the world, and with its socio-economic impacts felt heavily by the most vulnerable in society, including refugees and other displaced people, UNHCR continues to call on its donors—both institutional and private—to show solidarity and support those most in need.