Wael Badran (Abu Dhabi)
The Corona pandemic affected the countries of the entire world, economically, socially and healthily, and placed a heavy burden on governments and peoples, but the greatest impact was on the displaced and refugees, who were exhausted by conflicts and impoverished, as if they did not face enough challenges from fear, hunger and intimidation.
In an interview with Al Ittihad, on the occasion of World Refugee Day, which falls today, Rola Amin, spokeswoman for the UNHCR in the Middle East and North Africa, narrates some of the great suffering of refugees and displaced persons, which has increased since the start of the Corona epidemic, and sheds light on the extent The response of the United Nations High Commissioner, and the countries of the world, to the multiple crises of refugees and displaced persons.
Amin confirmed that at the height of the Corona virus pandemic, more than 160 countries closed their borders, and 99 of them did not grant any exception to people seeking protection, which led to an increase in the number of displaced people within their country’s borders, because they were not originally able to cross the borders and seek asylum in neighboring countries.
UNHCR spokeswoman, Rola Amin, stated that the number of forcibly displaced people around the world increased during 2020, despite the pandemic, by 4 percent, compared to the previous year, to record 82.4 million people, including 26.4 million refugees (20.7 million refugees under the mandate of the UNHCR and 5 .7 million Palestinian refugees under UNRWA’s mandate), 48 million internally displaced people, 4.1 million asylum seekers, and 3.9 million Venezuelans outside their country’s borders.
The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide reached 79.5 million by the end of 2019.
Amin explained that this is the ninth year in a row that the displacement crisis has witnessed an increase, and that this number is expected to rise year after year, unless world leaders take serious steps to redouble efforts to bring peace and stability to the hotbeds of conflict.
“It is unfortunate that despite repeated calls to stop conflicts while the world is responding to the pandemic, conflicts have continued, and more people have had to flee their countries to save their lives,” Amin said.
Millions of children
The UNHCR spokeswoman stressed that the pandemic has caused enormous impacts on the conditions of refugees and displaced persons, at all levels, as the epidemic has strained health care systems, affected economic and social conditions, as well as interrupted millions of children from education, and other negative effects facing the entire world. .
For example, in a study prepared by the World Bank, in partnership with UNHCR, on poverty levels among Syrian refugees and host communities, it was found that in 2020, there were 4.4 million people in host communities, nearly one million Syrian refugees and 180,000 Iraqis from Internally displaced people who fell into poverty due to the repercussions of the pandemic, noting that most of these refugees and displaced people were already living below the poverty line before the pandemic.
She explained that families, who depend on the informal labor market, suffer from a lack of resources and a heavy debt burden, have been particularly affected.
Rola Amin considered that the severity of the difficulties that IDPs and refugees face and the great challenges in their daily lives differ from one place to another, noting that the majority of refugees in the world are hosted by developing countries neighboring crisis hotspots that also suffer from their own challenges.
“Less than 10 percent of refugees are in Europe or the most developed countries,” she said, adding that the Middle East and North Africa region has been wracked by crises for many years, and currently has about 16 million people of concern to UNHCR.
And she continued, “The Syrian crisis, ten years after its outbreak, is still the largest displacement crisis in the world, with 6.6 million Syrian refugees, most of them in neighboring homes, and 6.7 displaced within the borders of their countries.”
Amin pointed out that Yemen is considered the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, and more than 4 million internally displaced people on the brink of famine.
Amin said: “With the start of the pandemic, additional levels of challenges have been added that make it necessary to provide support to the host countries in the Middle East and North Africa, in order to be able to continue hosting refugees, especially since these countries are already suffering from their own challenges to provide basic services to their citizens. ».
Amin expressed her regret over the lack of sufficient work to solve the causes of displacement, which led to the continued rise in the number of displaced and displaced persons, as a result of violence and persecution, during the year 2020, despite the “Corona” virus.
She said: “Just as we called on governments to integrate refugees into national health and vaccination plans, UNHCR calls for the need to include refugees also within national plans to recover from the effects of the pandemic, especially education and job opportunities.”
The UNHCR spokeswoman called on world leaders to put their differences aside and to intensify their efforts to promote peace, stability and cooperation in order to stop and start reversing the trend of nearly a decade of rising levels of displacement due to violence and persecution. She said: “The shortest way to extend a helping hand and help refugees in the world is to stop wars and conflicts,” adding: “Until that happens, we call on everyone to share in bearing the burden, and to share responsibilities in a way that ensures the continuation of aid provision and improving the lives of refugees.”
And she added, “We have launched several appeals dedicated to confronting the effects of the pandemic, and using the funding to enhance our ability to support refugees.”
She noted that UNHCR and its staff have long experience working in light of emergencies and major challenges, and during the pandemic, UNHCR has worked to develop specific mechanisms to adapt to emergency situations, to ensure the continued access of its staff to refugees and assistance.
She stated that the Commission has modified its working methods and created the necessary alternatives for the continuation of aid distribution and the continuation of the work of health facilities, in line with the procedures for restricting movement, isolation and quarantine.
Amin concluded her speech by expressing the UNHCR’s gratitude to all the parties that had a great deal of generosity and solidarity, stressing that the scale of the challenges is great, and after the pandemic, it has become even greater.
Amin stated that UNHCR is one of the organizations affiliated with the “COfax” coalition, to distribute vaccines to poor countries, but stressed that the responsibility for vaccinating refugees lies with the host countries. She added, “We believe that the equitable distribution of vaccines is a humanitarian necessity, and there is no safety for anyone except the safety of everyone,” noting that the Commission calls on all countries to integrate all groups of the population within the national plans for distribution and vaccination.
And she continued: “We do not call for organizing vaccination campaigns for refugees, but rather we call on all governments to integrate refugees and include them within the national plans for distribution and vaccination, regardless of the affiliations of these groups or where they live, and this includes marginalized communities such as refugees, displaced persons, asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups. According to the specific priorities of the general population determined by each country.
She stated that it is a cause for hope and relief that in the Middle East and North Africa, all 19 countries confirmed that refugees fall within their national vaccination plans, and that 15 of them have already started to vaccinate refugees.
Since the start of the Corona virus pandemic, UNHCR has worked hard, according to Amin, on several levels to ensure the inclusion and inclusion of refugees in the national health plans, whether for examination, treatment or vaccination.
She said: We have worked to raise awareness among refugees by providing them with the necessary information to prevent infection, distributing sterilizers and cleaning tools, and we have worked in coordination with governments to support and improve water, sanitation and health facilities systems, increase hospital capacity, and provide them with necessary equipment.
She added, “We have made efforts to address the economic and social impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, and to provide a helping hand to refugees through cash assistance, to support them in meeting basic needs, protecting income sources and employment opportunities, and preventing and responding to gender-based violence, in particular strengthening the availability of case management.” gender-based violence, access and improvement; and promoting mental health, by training workers on the front lines of response efforts.
And she continued: “We have also provided assistance in the recovery of the education sector, by safely reopening schools, investing in distance education via the Internet, and supporting the most vulnerable groups, especially teenage girls.”