UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has announced of taking series of measures to help public health emergency of the novel coronavirus and prevent further spread.
"Our top priority in the Covid-19 crisis is to ensure that the people we serve are included in response plans and are properly informed, while we supplement Governments' preparedness and response efforts wherever needed,'' said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, according to a press release.
Many refugees live in densely populated camps or in poor urban areas with inadequate health infrastructure and WASH – water, sanitation and hygiene – facilities. Prevention in these locations is of paramount importance, noted Grandi.
UNHCR measures includes:
• Reinforcing the health and WASH systems and services, including by distributing soap and increasing access to water.
• Supporting governments with infection prevention and healthcare response, including through the provision of medical equipment and supplies.
• Distributing shelter material and core relief items.
• Offering guidance and fact-based information on prevention measures.
• Expanding cash assistance to help mitigate the negative socio-economic impact of COVID-19.
• Enhancing monitoring and interventions to ensure the rights of forcibly displaced people are respected.
In Bangladesh, training has started for staff working in health facilities serving the Rohingya camps, where some 850,000 refugees live in very dense conditions. More than 2,000 refugee volunteers are working with community and religious leaders to communicate important prevention measures. This is complemented by radio spots, video, posters and leaflets in Rohingya, Burmese and Bengali languages.
Additional measures, including ensuring soap and water are accessible to all and increasing the number of hand washing facilities, are underway. Support for the creation of new isolation and treatment facilities for refugees and surrounding host community is also ongoing.
On 26 March, UNHCR called for $255 million as part of the wider UN appeal, to focus on priority countries that will require specific action.
Although the number of reported and confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection among refugees remains low, over 80% of the world's refugee population and nearly all the internally displaced people live in low to middle-income countries, many of which have weaker health, water and sanitation systems and need urgent support.