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UNHCR 'doing all it can' to prevent further spread of coronavirus

April 01, 2020 00:00:00

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, detailed on Tuesday a series of measures it is taking in its field operations to help respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency and prevent further spread, reports UNB.

"I am deeply concerned at this unprecedented pandemic and its impact on refugees and their host communities.

The COVID-19 crisis has already had significant consequences for our operations, forcing us to rapidly adjust the way we work. However, we are sparing no effort to help and protect refugees the best we can under these difficult circumstances,'' said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

He said their top priority in the COVID-19 crisis is to ensure that the people they serve are included in response plans and are properly informed, while they supplement the governments' preparedness and response efforts wherever needed.

On March 26, UNHCR called for $255 million as part of the wider UN appeal, to focus on priority countries that will require specific action, according to a media release issued from Geneva on Tuesday.

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, according to UNHCR.

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.

Although the number of reported and confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection among refugees remains low, over 80 per cent 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.

Many refugees live in densely populated camps or in poorer urban areas with inadequate health infrastructure and WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - facilities. Prevention in these locations is of paramount importance, noted Grandi.

Measures UNHCR is taking include 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.

UNHCR is also working with UN partners to find solutions to logistical challenges resulting from disrupted manufacturing capacity and border closures.

This includes stepping up local and regional procurement and organising air bridges. Over 100 tonnes of emergency and medical aid were recently airlifted to Chad and Iran.

"We will continue to expand our critical interventions on the ground.

But to do this, we need timely and unearmarked financial support now, including to ongoing humanitarian operations.

Coordinated international support is in our common interest and absolutely critical," said Grandi.

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