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UNHCR says more support is needed to protect refugees, displaced people and host community members in the Middle East and North Africa from COVID-19

Sallam Sallam

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency urgently requires US$ 343 million in order to meet additional needs of millions of refugees and other vulnerable people in the Middle East and North Africa related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The funds are needed to save lives and protect against COVID-19 from spreading, but also to address the dramatic socio-economic consequences of the pandemic on some of the most vulnerable people in the region.

The Refugee Agency plans to further scale up support for those most in need among 16 million refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees, stateless people and members of host communities in the region. In addition, the funds will contribute to improve the situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, UNHCR has intensified its efforts to help refugees, displaced persons and other persons in need against the threat of a possible spread of the virus. The region hosts large displaced and refugee groups from countries such as Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Other groups in need include for instance Sahrawi refugees in Algeria and Malian refugees in Mauritania.

Many of the countries in the region have health systems which are already overstretched and economies severely impacted by the crisis. This is compounded by the effects of ongoing or recent conflicts.

UNHCR is collaborating with Governments and other partners to increase the capacity of health facilities and support national health plans, while advocating for the inclusion of refugees and displaced persons in such plans. It is also investing to improve access to clean water and to sanitation infrastructure. Furthermore, it is providing shelter assistance and enhanced camp management in order to reduce the risk of infection and transmissions. 

“Helping the most vulnerable amongst us to fight this virus and its consequences is not just a moral obligation,” says Ayman Gharaibeh, UNHCR’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “It is the wise thing to do as well. If any group of people is excluded, all other efforts to end this crisis will be in vain.” 

Despite numerous operational challenges due to travel and movement restrictions and interruptions of supply chains, UNHCR has adapted its way of working, in order to stay and deliver during the COVID-19 outbreak. UNHCR has maintained critical protection support, while also continuing and expanding crucial cash assistance. 

While COVID-19 is a public health crisis, it has resulted in a protection and poverty crisis for those living hand-to-mouth on the economic margins of society. Among the most affected are refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced persons and stateless persons. Most of them already live below the poverty line. People have lost jobs and income opportunities or have been unable to leave their houses to look for work. Many of those who were coping without cash assistance before COVID-19 are now becoming increasingly destitute and desperate, entering further into debt and spiraling into poverty.

To meet the growing economic needs, UNHCR is now expanding its assistance to include more vulnerable families across the region. In countries like Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, the main host countries of Syrian refugees, additional cash assistance has been prepared or is already being distributed.

In Yemen, UNHCR has provided cash assistance to refugees and asylum seekers who lost their jobs. It also made available cash grants to vulnerable refugees in countries such as Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. In some situations, UNHCR has distributed in-kind support, including in Syria, where vulnerable persons have received hygiene kits, food baskets and hot meals through community-led initiatives. In Libya, refugees, displaced Libyans and healthcare providers have received hygiene materials and other urgently needed goods.

Thanks to voluntary contributions from donors, UNHCR has already provided more than 100 million USD dollars in cash support to extremely vulnerable persons in the region already this year, but thousands of additional families will need support over the next months.

More details on the needs in MENA related to COVID-19 can be found under: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/76678

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