The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced on Wednesday it is seeking $255 million to deliver equipment to test refugees and migrants for the coronavirus, to deliver medical supplies and to install handwashing stations in camps and settlements.
The request is part of the wider COVID-19 UN Global Humanitarian Response Plan seeking $2 billion to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Refugees and migrants live under conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to respiratory infections, including COVID-19,” said Christian Lindmeier, a spokesman for the World Health Organization.
Conditions include overcrowded camps and settlements, and physical and mental stress due to lack of housing, food and clean water, according to Lindmeier.
UNHCR stated in a press release that the money will also be used to launch public information campaigns to educate millions of refugees on how to protect themselves from contracting the virus.
“During an outbreak, migrants and refugees may face barriers to receiving information,” said Lindmeier. “Ensuring that countries have the ability to develop health-related messages that reach everyone in the community contributes to promotion of behaviors that can contain or stop the outbreak.”
In addition, it is important for refugee agencies to coordinate efforts with countries where refugees are located, especially if they are in camps where social distancing is a challenge, to try to provide refugees with basic services, particularly in health care, said Merissa Khurma, program manager at the Wilson Center, a think tank that focuses on international issues.
Last week, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration announced the temporary suspension of resettlement travel for refugees as countries have closed their borders and placed drastic restrictions on air travel.
“Travel restrictions will certainly delay any refugee resettlement efforts underway and that is unfortunate,” Khurma said. “However, it is crucial to keep in mind that these travel restrictions are in place in order to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.”
There have been over 480,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide as of Wednesday, according to Worldometer, a platform offering live statistics from around the world. As the number of cases from around the world rises, fear that operations by humanitarian agencies will be impeded is growing.
“Refugees are a vulnerable population, whether in refugee camps or in urban centers, and scaling back humanitarian operations will certainly adversely affect their well-being given their dependency on humanitarian aid and services,” said Khurma.
According to Lindmeier, presently WHO is working with UNHCR and other partners to ensure that refugees are supported and provided with healthcare through mobile teams.