The coronavirus pandemic has shown how fragile global health systems are. It has also laid bare the inequalities that undermine support for the communities that need it most, such as refugees. For millions of the world’s refugees and displaced people, Covid-19 is a new hardship that they cannot control and do not have the means to endure. Now is the time to do all we can to protect them.
According to the latest figures from UNHCR, a record 79.5 million were displaced as of the end of 2019. 45.7 million are displaced within their own countries and the rest have sought refuge elsewhere.
The number of people displaced due to conflict and persecution is the highest it has ever been, while the climate emergency is also having a catastrophic impact on displacement. The vast majority of people forced to flee their homes are doing so in protracted situations of violence that the international community has been unable to address.
More than two thirds of all refugees worldwide come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. Islamic Relief is working within conflict-affected regions around the world as well as in neighbouring countries to support refugees, displaced people and the communities hosting them.
This World Refugee Day we are highlighting the increased risks faced by refugees and displaced people since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Those forced to flee their homes often have limited access to healthcare, clean water and sanitation, and are more likely to have less choice about risking their health to work and provide for their families. The risks are even greater for those living in crowded settings where simple pre-emptive measures like social distancing, self-isolation and handwashing are harder – and in many cases impossible – to implement.
Helping the most vulnerable face the crisis
Islamic Relief is escalating its response to the pandemic with Covid-19 programmes being implemented in 12 priority countries across Asia, Africa and the Middle East as well as smaller scale support in Europe and elsewhere. In Syria, we distributed over 100,000 items of medical supplies to 50 health facilities to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. In Gaza, we have provided emergency food packs to 16,500 people and cash vouchers to over 6,800 people impacted by the lockdown.
In Jordan, Islamic Relief is taking measures to prevent the virus spreading among Syrian and Palestinian refugees who are at greater risk because they live in cramped conditions and lack access to basic healthcare. We are raising community awareness of safe practices by using radio programmes in local languages, distributing information materials, setting up health centres and delivering personal protection equipment (PPE), including sanitisers and face masks. We are also providing cash grants to vulnerable people like Nawaf, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan.
Nawaf and many others like him have been trying to rebuild their lives after being displaced due to the war. Living in Abu Al Basal Camp in Ramtha, Nawaf has felt the impact of the country-wide lockdown more severely than most people.
“I don’t have any stable income because I used to work as a daily worker and due to the lockdown I stopped working which resulted in no pay. I received a food coupon but I couldn’t redeem it due to the lockdown as well. Honestly we don’t know what to do!”
Nawaf was forced to borrow money from other people to cover some of his basic needs. Being the only wage earner in the family and with young children to support, he has been unable to cope with the mounting problems caused by the pandemic.
Nawaf is among the 4,500 Syrian refugees Islamic Relief is supporting as part of our Covid-19 response programme in Jordan, which also includes support for 2,000 Palestinian refugees. As Covid-19 poses new challenges for aid agencies in reaching vulnerable people in a safe and effective way, we start by listening to people like Nawaf, understanding the pressures and practical challenges they face before providing support that directly alleviates their suffering in these difficult times.
Campaigning for the rights of refugees
Inspired by Islamic teachings on providing asylum to those fleeing persecution, Islamic Relief is not only responding to the needs of refugees and displaced people around the world but also campaigning on their behalf. In 2013, Islamic Relief was one of several faith-inspired organisations to work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on an inter-faith affirmation, pledging our commitment to ‘welcome the stranger.’
We have also been campaigning to help implement the UN’s Global Compact on Refugees. This calls for increased global funding for refugee protection and basic needs; governments to uphold refugee rights including access to services and employment; states to commit to resettle larger numbers of refugees; combatting xenophobia; and ensuring faith plays a key role in planning and delivering protection and assistance for refugees and host communities.
Now is the time to reach out
The Covid-19 pandemic has come at a time when the world is witnessing a global refugee crisis. Behind the staggering figure of 79.5 million people is the tragedy of displacement, suffering and loss. It is the stories of people like Nawaf, who have no guarantees that they will have enough food to survive, get access to healthcare if they fall ill or have a safe place to live – let alone dream of returning home.
This World Refugee Day, with many of us still unable to resume normal life, is an opportunity to reflect on how precious the things we take for granted are, how connected all our lives are and what we can do to support each other at a time of global crisis.
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.’ Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided.” (Qur’an, 2:155-7)