Adapting to COVID-19: UNHCR Efforts to Protect Refugees

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has pushed many nations across the globe to enforce harsh precautionary measures, economic policies, and partial/complete lockdowns in order to flatten the curve. There are over 71 million forcefully displaced persons (FDPs) in the world. During a pandemic, FDPs are more vulnerable than most; especially those who have not yet been granted refugee status and gained access to international and national aid.  

There are many types of FDPs, all of which are under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) – you can find out more about them in the 1951 Refugees Convention. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated, “if we ever needed reminding that we live in an interconnected world, the novel coronavirus has brought that home”.   

Effects of the Pandemic on Vulnerable Populations

Forcefully displaced persons suffer from marginalization and drastically poor living conditions, which puts them in extreme vulnerability. Access to water and sanitation systems, medical care, and food supply, is scarce and limited. More than 80% of the world’s refugees and nearly all the world’s internally displaced people are hosted in low- and middle-income countries. These host countries already face a myriad of problems, especially in providing access to the very basic human needs. The outbreak demanded the UNHCR to upgrade their work and boost majority of their existing mechanisms in order to keep FDPs safe during the pandemic.  

© UNHCR/Mohamad al-Taher

Current Efforts of UNHCR

The UNHCR is currently helping in data collection and monitoring the spread of the outbreak amongst FDPs. It is also creating frameworks to limit the spread of the infection in hosting areas. Responding to the coronavirus, UNHCR is supplying life-saving support; that includes basic living necessities such as water and food, essential hygiene products, and most importantly, medical care. Hosting areas for displaced persons usually lack some of the basic essentials for a decent human life due to the lack of essential infrastructure.  

© UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem
© UNHCR/Firas Al-Khateeb

In response, UNHCR is boosting aid to these hosting areas, enhancing hygiene resources, providing airlifting emergency supplies, setting up isolation units to improve general public health. In addition, newly built communities – and already existing ones – have been receiving fact-based information from UNHCR on preventative measures, including social distancing, isolation from any infected or suspected cases, and available access to health care services. The Commission is distributing other basic needs and materials, increased financial aid in response to the detrimental socio-economic consequences caused by the virus. UNHCR are sparing no effort to ensure that FDPs are protected and their rights are granted during COVID-19.  

How We Can Help

It is time for us to take action and be a part of the solution that can help alleviate the pressures affecting FDPs. We can start by donating to the UNHCR and join their efforts in protecting forcefully displaced persons. Furthermore, as stated by the High Commissioner, we can use the power of our interconnectivity, and spread awareness on the current situation facing FDPs. You never know, maybe your next Instagram post can save a life. Additionally, we can all take small steps towards integration by joining an online cultural or language exchange with forcefully displaced persons, this way, both parties benefit because, FDPs include language experts, artists, musicians, teachers, doctors, nurses and others with diverse talents and skills. Go check out NaTakallam, where they offer such an opportunity to engage and try to help forcefully displaced persons.  

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About the Author

Abdelrahman El Ghonamy is the Chief of Dais of Catalysts for Change MUN; he has been involved in Egypt’s local MUN community since 2012 - while participating in multiple international conferences. Abdelrahman has accumulated experience working with hundreds of students through his work with leading MUN communities around the world. His hobbies include playing the guitar and basketball.