Two months into the COVID-19 crisis, the protection and socio-economic toll on host communities, refugees and other vulnerable persons in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has been devastating. The impact of COVID-19 will be felt by all long after movement restrictions are lifted.
UNHCR’s response to COVID-19 across MENA is focused on two pillars:
Supporting national COVID-19 response plans and systems, including Health, WASH and Shelter assistance that responds to and reduces the risk of infection and transmissions; while advocating for the inclusion of refugees and other forcibly displaced in national plans.
Adapting and delivering protection services and cash assistance to the most vulnerable, including host communities.
Thanks to generous contributions by donors, UNHCR has been able to stay and deliver. Past investments in virtual communication tools, remote protection services, and innovative cash programming have meant UNHCR and partners have been able to respond quickly, safely and securely.
Following the updated United Nations COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP), a revised UNHCR Global COVID-19 Appeal was issued on 11 May requesting USD 745 million until the end of 2020 for immediate needs in prioritized countries. A total of USD 235 million has so far been pledged or recorded (32 per cent), with a funding gap of USD 510 million (68 per cent).
Reflecting the scale of the crisis, and in line with the GHRP and UNCR’s Global COVID-19 appeal, UNHCR MENA’s comprehensive 5 2020 financial requirements for the COVID-19 preparedness and response is USD 343 million.
The consequence of current underfunding is already evident. Vulnerable men, women, girls and boys are unable able to buy food, pay their rent, medical costs.
Many are resorting to short-term but harmful strategies, reducing meals, increasing debt and sharing overcrowded accommodation. Some are unable to follow COVID-19 precautionary measures because of a lack of resources, potentially undermining national and global efforts to contain the pandemic.
This is an ‘emergency on top of an emergency’. Failure to respond risks worsening already desperate humanitarian crises, including in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Across MENA, the successes that have enabled some to provide for themselves, go to school and receive medical services risk being undone.
Additional funding is urgently needed, both for UNHCR MENA’s regular programme, and for the COVID-19 response. Regular programmes - including protection services, regular monthly cash assistance, education at all levels, shelter, camp management and basic relief items - help to prevent potential outbreaks and bolster the resilience of refugees and other forcibly displaced to cope with COVID-19 and its consequences.
UNHCR MENA’s 2020 financial requirement for its regular programme is USD 2.605 billion, currently 18 per cent funded.
UNHCR’s COVID-19 response has been incorporated into and coordinated through the existing Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) for the Syria crisis and Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) structures. UNHCR operations are actively engaging with national and UN contingency planning for COVID-19.