UNHCR offers practical recommendations in support of European countries to ensure access to asylum and safe reception
#UNHCR; #Greece; #Afghan; #AsylumAccess; #SafeReception; #Covid19Pandemic
Greece, Apr 29 (Canadian-Media): With the world mobilizing to combat the spread of COVID-19, many countries in Europe and beyond have adopted exceptional measures to manage their borders, limiting air travel and cross-border mobility, UNHCR reports said.
An Afghan asylum seeker stands with two of his childern at a reception centre in Fylakio, Greece, in February 2020. Image credit: © UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has called today on European countries to safeguard the many good practices and redouble their efforts to strengthen asylum systems in Europe in these trying times.
It is encouraging that nearly two thirds of European countries have found ways to manage their borders effectively while allowing access to their territories for people seeking asylum.
Medical screenings at borders, health certification or temporary quarantine upon arrival are some of the measures put in place by European countries. These are important positive precedents for other States in Europe and beyond.
“With refugees and asylum-seekers at the centre of our efforts, we have prepared a series of practical recommendations in support of national asylum systems as we continue to provide our expertise to governments,” said Pascale Moreau, UNHCR’s Regional Director for Europe.
Measures to mitigate a COVID-19 spread, such as physical distancing and restrictions on movements and gatherings, have impacted the functioning of asylum systems in Europe, be it the registration of new asylum claims and documentation, status determination or judicial reviews. Consequences can be serious for individuals concerned as well as States. For example, where new asylum claims are not registered, people’s stay is not regulated, and they have no access to basic assistance and health services. Where asylum procedures are suspended, national asylum authorities will face significant challenges upon resumption, or worse, risk to lose or even reverse past investments in national asylum systems.
Recognizing the risks of such adverse consequences, the majority of European countries have at least in part adapted their asylum systems to the current situation. Registration procedures have been simplified, adjusted to permit written or electronic submissions, or frontloaded to coincide with medical screenings, while automatizing the issuance of documentation. Others have adjusted the physical infrastructure in interviewing facilities or are testing and upscaling remote interviewing techniques, such as through video-conferencing, to continue with asylum procedures.
Reception capacities for new arrivals in a number of European states have been under pressure for some time – a situation now aggravated by the COVID-19 emergency. Virus transmission risks are particularly high in overcrowded reception facilities or confined spaces, such as in immigration detention facilities. A number of States have begun to release detained asylum-seekers into safer reception conditions. States have also taken a variety of proactive measures to improve conditions in reception facilities with a view to reduce transmission risks. Some have quickly created additional temporary reception capacity by populating unused facilities or empty hotels to decongest crowded facilities, prioritising the move of at-risk groups, such as older persons.
“Recognizing enormous challenges posed by the health crisis, we urge States to also continue their life-saving efforts in rescuing refugees and migrants in distress at sea,” said Moreau.
“There should be no delay or hesitation in our actions when it comes to saving lives. When people desperately searching for safety arrive at our borders, whether on land or at sea, we must never turn our backs or return people back to the danger from which they fled.”
Reception capacity constraints are also a main reason challenging the disembarkation of refugees and migrants who have been rescued after harrowing journeys across the Mediterranean. However, while increasing reception capacity in receiving European countries is an important starting point, more efforts are needed, including stronger intra-EU solidarity in the form of relocation.
As Europe starts to shift measures in its response to COVID-19, there lie risks but also opportunities. Measures taken at a time of adversity, may contribute to building more resilient asylum systems for the future.
“We should collectively identify and embrace such opportunities, for example the digital means to register asylum claims, the use of remote means of interviewing or efforts to make asylum procedures faster while remaining fair,” said Moreau. “UNHCR remains appreciative of host communities and States for their efforts to protect the asylum space in Europe at the times of heightened public health risks for all.”
Harnessing the good practices deployed across Europe, UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Europe has issued a compilation of good practices and practical recommendations. These offer practical support to States in ensuring access to territory and asylum, addressing movement restrictions or in communicating effectively with asylum-seekers and refugee populations on COVID-19 risks.
Geneva, Apr 18 (Canadian-Media): The UN human rights office (OHCHR), is calling for compassion for people desperately seeking shelter, after 30 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar died on a boat in the Bay of Bengal that had spent nearly two months at sea, UN reports said.
Nearly 400 others onboard were found dehydrated, malnourished and in need of immediate medical care. They disembarked in Bangladesh on Thursday morning and are receiving assistance from UN refugee agency UNHCR, and its partners.
“We are aware of reports that this boat had repeatedly sought a safe harbour, but the vessel was unable to land in Malaysia”, OHCHR Spokesperson Richard Colville said on Friday.
“Whatever efforts are taken to combat people-smuggling, this should be a time for compassion towards those in desperate need of assistance and protection”.
With reports of other vessels in similar circumstances still at sea, the UN has urged countries to step-up timely search and rescue efforts.
Countries were reminded that any response should be based on international human rights and refugee law, and to avoid “dangerous interception practices”, such as preventing boats from landing.
Sea tragedy a ‘sad reminder’
Mr. Colville said the refugees’ journey was a “sad reminder” of the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Rakhine state, in northern Myanmar, over the past four years.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group and are not recognized as citizens of the country. Members have fled persecution at the hands of the authorities, escaping overland and on boats to Bangladesh and other countries in the region.
More than 670,000 alone fled the latest wave in August 2017 and are now living in camps in the Cox’s Bazar region in southern Bangladesh.
The UN rights office reported that the situation in Rakhine and neighbouring Chin state is again dire. A recent surge in violence between the ethnic Arakan Army armed group and the national forces has affected civilians of all ethnic groups.
Violence and Internet blackout
Mr. Colville also reported that the Myanmar army has been carrying out almost daily airstrikes and shelling in populated areas. At least 32 people have been killed, and more than 70 injured, since 23 March. Despite the UN Secretary General’s recent appeal for a global ceasefire during the COVID-19 pandemic, calls for a ceasefire have been ignored.
“Further complicating the situation, there has been an internet blackout in nine townships across Rakhine and Chin States since June 2019”, he said.
“This blackout has greatly hampered the availability of reliable public information on hygiene, physical distancing precautions and other preventative measures. Internet restrictions have also been applied by the Bangladesh authorities to the Rohingya refugee camps.”
OHCHR called on all parties to the conflict to heed the UN chief's appeal.
The UN agency also urged the Myanmar authorities to lift the internet ban and allow humanitarians to access all conflict-affected areas, while Bangladesh should allow Rohingya refugees free access to information and communication.
#UNHCR; #DCR; #coronavirus; #Insecurity
Africa, Apr 17 (Canadian-Media): UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency is warning that the latest rounds of violence in eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) displacing thousands of people could unleash terrible consequences for the country as it grapples to initiate a new fight against the deadly coronavirus, UNHCR reports said.
An internally displaced woman washes her hands before receiving cash assistance at Kigonze site, Ituri Province, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Image credit: © UNHCR
More than five million people have been uprooted by conflict within the DRC’s borders, the single-largest internally displaced population in Africa. The country also hosts over half a million refugees, fleeing unrest and persecution in the neighbouring countries.
Recent attacks in North Kivu and Ituri provinces are reported to have displaced more than 35,000 people in recent weeks including some 25,000 in villages south of Lubero territory.
In the meantime, security has deteriorated in the Djugu Territory in Ituri province, where a growing number of attacks by unknown assailants have displaced over 12,000 persons so far this month.
These attacks hamper humanitarian access, hinder assistance to desperate displaced people, and disrupt vital coordination on COVID-19 prevention and sensitization.
Ongoing violence and insecurity in other parts of the country could also make it harder for the displaced to access public health facilities. Many areas and sites hosting displaced people are also overcrowded, making it difficult to implement physical and social distancing.
As confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in DRC with 287 confirmed cases and 23 deaths, mainly in the capital Kinshasa, UNHCR is working closely with other UN and humanitarian partners to prevent the spread of the disease among refugees and the internally displaced. At the same time, we continue our activities to protect and assist refugees and internally displaced people.
As to date, no cases of COVID-19 infection have been reported among refugees and asylum seekers in the DRC. UNHCR is redoubling its efforts to implement prevention and response measures in refugee camps and sites.
We are extremely concerned that insecurity and diminishing humanitarian access will generate major challenges for the country, already overwhelmed and under-resourced with its health services.
Insecurity in the East had forced UNHCR partners to withdraw staff from displacement sites in Drodro and Bule in the Ituri province at the end of March, leaving displaced people without effective support. UNHCR and its partners have facilitated the establishment of 14 humanitarian committees to temporarily provide remote management, until the security situation improves.
Our efforts also continue against COVID-19 despite challenges in many other parts of DRC – as we draw lessons from the world’s second-largest Ebola epidemic, which has been affecting the country since 2018.
UNHCR is strengthening its regular health and sanitization activities in camps, sites and transit centres where possible. The present prevention COVID-19 measures include temperature screening at entry points of camps, sites and transit centres, and have installed some 365 hand-washing stations, and carried out an initial distribution of more than 23,000 soap bars.
UNHCR is also conducting mass awareness-raising activities on health measures being implemented by the Government and on guidance on preventive measures to lower the risk of infection.
Refugees and displaced persons often express fears about the virus, mainly as a result of misinformation. While physical distancing can be challenging in overcrowded camps or settlements, the advice to regularly wash hands is globally keenly followed.
Across DRC, UNHCR is also supporting the national healthcare system to scale-up its response. We are for instance setting up three isolation centres in the Kasai province where patients with COVID-19 symptoms will be referred to for treatment, hence limiting the burden on public hospitals and health structures.
We are also, together with our partners, delivering medical equipment, beds, masks, gloves and other materials to help address critical shortages in areas hosting refugees and internally displaced persons. These are often in remote locations where there is already a lack of basic healthcare infrastructure and frequent medicine supply shortages.
Meanwhile, we are maintaining existing programmes where possible. We continue to assist with cash-based interventions to support the displaced in North Kivu province to meet a variety of needs, including access to food, healthcare and shelter. We are now using mobile money transfers to reduce physical contacts and have provided over 5,900 internally displaced households with mobile phones and SIM cards.
Furthermore, nearly some 2,000 Burundian asylum-seekers who have recently arrived and remain in a transit centre in South Kivu province, will be transferred to a permanent settlement. Temporary shelters are currently under construction and these new arrivals will remain in quarantine for 14 days and will receive cash for shelter to build their own shelters through mobile money transfers.
UNHCR continues its advocacy for equal access to refugees and displaced people in the national health systems being put in place to fight COVID-19.
West and Central Africa: UNHCR steps up efforts as combined challenges of conflict & coronavirus threaten millions of people
#UNHCR; #WestAfrica; #CentralAfrica; #Covid19; #CAR
Geneva, Apr 17 (Canadian-Media): UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has stepped up efforts across West and Central Africa to protect millions of vulnerable people who are facing a renewed risk from the combined effects of conflict and the coronavirus pandemic, UNHCR reports said.
These two Cameroonian refugees are part of the refugee and host community volunteer-hygiene-promoters and WASH committee in Ukende refugee settlement, Nigeria. UNHCR has built the capacity of these volunteers to actively contribute to awareness-raising on COVID-19 prevention among refugees and the host community. Image credit: © UNHCR/Tony Aseh
COVID-19 has exacerbated challenges in a region already dealing with one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, involving over nine million forcibly displaced people. The pandemic has led to border closures and added an increased strain on fragile health systems and weak economies.
UNHCR has stepped up support to governments to help address the deteriorating humanitarian crisis. Our focus is on ensuring access to safety and trying to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
West and Central Africa has one of Africa’s largest displaced population with some 5.6 million internally displaced, 1.3 million refugees, 1.4 million returnees who still need assistance, and 1.6 million Stateless.
So far, all the 21 countries of the region have reported a total of over 5,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 100 deaths since the first detection on February 28, 2020. So far, only host populations appear to have been affected with no coronavirus cases so far reported among the displaced.
However, a lack of concerted and coordinated efforts to prevent an outbreak could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe with a sharp increase in the number of those affected.
In West Africa’s Sahel region, armed conflict and attacks on civilians have displaced nearly 3 million people, nearly one million of whom since January 2019, and more than 5 million people are now facing food shortages.
Countries have officially imposed various levels of restriction on international movements from complete to partial border closures and mandatory self-quarantine on travellers arriving in-country.
Although, COVID-19 related restrictions are not targeted at refugees and asylum-seekers specifically, UNHCR has expressed concern that measures in the region could see people in need of international protection attempting even more risky and dangerous border crossings.
The restriction on movement, a slowdown or even halt in economic activity will likely have a greater impact on refugees and the internally displaced people since the majority are involved in the informal sector which historically is one of the most affected during public health outbreaks.
We are also worried over the possibility of people seeking safety being sent back to danger as potential movements of Malians, Nigerians, Nigeriens, Cameroonians and Sudanese seeking international protection may be hindered by these restrictions.
In addition to the precarious security (especially in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin), the restrictions by COVID-19 are also hindering humanitarian efforts to support and assist people in need.
In Burkina Faso, Malian refugees fled attacks by armed groups on their camp in Goudoubo. Some took refuge in the overcrowded internal displacement sites inside Burkina Faso. The whereabouts of others are unknown. UNHCR activities, including the delivery of identity cards and other administrative procedures, are currently on hold as well.
In the Central African Republic, UNHCR staff report armed groups forcing displaced people to return to their places of origins in some localities, blaming them for the potential spread of COVID-19.
In Mali, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV), human rights and social cohesion campaigns, implemented by UNHCR and its partners are temporarily suspended in order to limit public gatherings.
In Niger, humanitarian access, already limited in the northern Tahoua, Tillabery and Diffa regions due to increasing violence is now further restrained due to the pandemic. Resettlement of vulnerable refugees evacuated from Libya and currently in transit is temporarily suspended due to severe travel restriction across the world.
Despite challenges in the whole region, work continues for UNHCR and many of its frontline staff. Under the banner of “Stay and Deliver” operations are adapting to reach desperate people. Field teams are introducing remote assistance and integrating cash assistance to support displaced populations – including people affected by SGBV and women at risk. Measures include online phone consultations in line with recommended social distancing measures to reduce contamination risks.
We are adjusting education activities in response to widespread school closures, which have impacted over 140 million children across the region. These figures include displaced children who are integrated into national education systems.
In Burkina Faso, the situation is particularly dramatic due to the unprecedently high displacement levels there. UNHCR is now exploring the possibility of relocating of some of those living in Dori to the Goudoubo refugee camp, which is currently empty but has water, sanitation and health facilities.
In Cameroon, registration teams in the East and Adamawa have developed tools that enable them to resume registration of the displaced after a week of suspension.
Since urban refugees are currently among the most affected by movement restrictions, UNHCR has set up a free phone line to organize the reception of refugees and asylum seekers by appointment for the registration of new-borns and documentation.
In Chad, a home visit registration approach is being considered for the new Kouchaguine camp in Farchana town/city at the request of the government. Information and awareness-raising materials are regularly shared with community leaders. UNHCR is also establishing a service to ensure the continuity of child protection activities.
In the Central African Republic (CAR), some 30 protection focal points are helping to ensure continued monitoring despite the COVID-19 pandemic. A hotline has also been set-up alongside a community alert mechanism to keep an eye on the main areas where displaced people have returned.
UNHCR is planning to distribute additional plastic sheeting and relief kits to decongest displaced sites and increase opportunities for social and physical distancing within those locations.
In Mali, activities continue in Timbuktu and other locations to raise awareness on children rights and prevention against COVID-19 targeting girls and boys.
In Niger, UNHCR is working with the authorities to purchase and distribute equipment - pencils and notebooks, as well as radios. A partnership has been set up with a local radio station to continue education programs through over community radios in the whole country. Self-learning programs and booklets are being produced for students in their final years and for Nigerian refugees attending the Distance Education Centers in the Diffa region.
Also in Niger, UNHCR is identifying overcrowded sites and has initiated site planning to respect the necessary distance between shelters. In Sayam Forage camp, the only official refugee camp in the country, an additional transit area is being built.
In Northeast Nigeria, refugee returnees and asylum-seekers from neighbouring countries are still arriving, even if borders are closed. UHNCR is following up with the government to guarantee medical screening in addition to access to the territory.
Internally displaced camps in Borno state are overcrowded, making social distancing impossible. UNHCR is working with the UN Development Programme to help with the expansion of camps and fences in Banki, Ngala and Bama.
Urgent support is needed to fill major gaps in the region, needing more trained health personnel in emergency response and adequate treatment units, particularly in remote areas hosting refugees and displaced people.
As part of the broader UN Global Humanitarian Response Plan, UNHCR has issued an Emergency Appeal requesting US$255 million for life-saving interventions and preparations in response to COVID-19.
UNHCR’s Bureau for West & Central Africa covers 21 countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
B-roll available: https://media.unhcr.org/Share/fn4sl405yj8rd3s46qg8g462boop2c1v
Nearly 400 Rohingya refugees receiving assistance in medical facilities in Cox’s Bazar, following two months at sea
#UNHCR; #Bangladesh, #UNRefugeeAgency; #COVID19
New York, Apr 16 (Canadian-Media): At the request of the Government of Bangladesh, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and partners in Bangladesh are currently providing shelter and assistance for close to 400 Rohingya refugee survivors who disembarked from a boat in the Bay of Bengal on Thursday morning, UNHCR reports said.
Bangladesh Coast Guard provide water to a Rohingya refugee disembarked from a boat in Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar along with almost 400 others. Many were dehydrated and malnourished having spent almost 2 months at sea. Image credit: © UNHCR
We understand from those on-board that around 30 more refugees may have passed away at sea as the boat ran out of food, water and fuel during a nearly two-month long journey at sea.
The survivors include a large number of women and children. They are all in weak physical condition, many are dehydrated and malnourished and in need of immediate medical attention. The group has been moved to designated medical facilities in Nayapara and Ukhiya where they are receiving medical attention and other assistance.
In line with established procedures and in adherence with Government Directives for all individuals entering Bangladesh, they will all receive a full medical screening and will be monitored and quarantined for the next two weeks. Despite some media reports claiming that the group may be infected with COVID-19, there is currently no evidence to substantiate these reports.
Controlled, managed and predictable procedures for new arrivals ensures that any risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus is mitigated and that communities are protected, including the Rohingya refugees from the boat who remain in an extremely vulnerable condition.
#UNICEF, #UNHCR. #IOM; #EEA; #EU; #NATO
New York, Apr 15 (Canadian-Media): IOM, the International Organization for Migration, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, today welcomed the relocation of 12 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Greece to Luxembourg.
Two unaccompanied minors watch the departures board at an Athens airport before boarding a chartered flight to Luxembourg under a new EU relocation scheme.
Image credit: © UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis
The children, who had been living in overcrowded reception and identification centres for several months on the islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios, arrived safely in Luxembourg this afternoon. Germany is in the process of relocating another group of unaccompanied children from Greece, who are due to arrive this weekend.
These are the first relocations under a European Union initiative for 1,600 unaccompanied children in which ten Member States have pledged to participate.
The three UN agencies greeted the arrival as an encouraging start in a larger effort to relocate vulnerable children from Greece in the coming weeks. The agencies highlighted that the progress made by Greece, Luxembourg and Germany to relocate unaccompanied children is in line with the children’s best interests, considers their international protection needs and takes into account existing family ties.
The relocation efforts are humane, concrete demonstrations of European solidarity. The European Commission’s coordination role has also been crucial to help find region-wide durable solutions for these particularly vulnerable children. The agencies noted that there is a need to move beyond one-off relocation exercises and establish more predictable arrangements for relocation within the EU, for longer-term impact.
“The importance of this crucial initiative is amplified now due to the challenges we are all facing from COVID-19. Relocation of vulnerable children especially at a time of heightened hardship, sends a strong message of European solidarity and we hope to see this expand soon,” said Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director for the EEA, EU and NATO.
Today’s relocation of one girl and 11 boys, two of them Syrian and ten Afghans aged 11 to 15, has been led by the Governments of Greece and Luxembourg, with the support of the European Commission, UNHCR and IOM.
UNHCR, together with the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Greek NGO partners (Metadrasi and Praksis) has been assisting the Greek authorities in identifying unaccompanied children for relocation and determining their best interest, in close coordination with the Ministry of Migration and Asylum’s Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors, Eirini Agapidaki. Best interest determinations were also completed for a group of unaccompanied children who arrived in Athens from the islands this morning and will depart for Germany this Saturday.
“Twelve children are today looking at a brighter future in a new country,” said Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR Representative in Greece. “UNHCR has worked tirelessly alongside Greece, EASO, and NGOs to ensure that the children’s best interests are fully considered. European countries must work together to share the responsibility with Greece and ensure that all unaccompanied children are safe and cared for.”
Prior to their departure from Greece, the children were transferred from the islands to an IOM facility in Athens. IOM conducted standard health assessments and medical examinations. Each child was tested for COVID-19, with all test results returning negative.
IOM organized the flights and “predeparture orientation sessions” for each child. Children were provided with information on what to expect during their journey and on arrival in Luxembourg. IOM escorts accompanied the children on the flight from Greece and ensured a safe handover of the children to relevant authorities and partners in Luxembourg.
On arrival children must have safe, supported and community-based accommodation that facilitates their social integration, including during mandatory quarantine. Children should not be housed in large shelters or centres and will require rapid access to health care, psychosocial support, education and other essential services.
“I hope today’s successful relocation will spur other EU States that have made pledges to accelerate action in following suit,” said Ms. Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe. “This action is critical, because children identified for relocation are the most vulnerable and most in need of protection. It is also a tangible way to support the ongoing efforts of Greek authorities to look after the thousands of refugee and migrant children who will remain under their care.”
UNICEF, UNHCR and IOM have worked closely to establish standards for which children would be identified and prioritized for relocation. The agencies’ joint document,“Minimum Child Protection Standards for Identification of Unaccompanied and separated Children to be Relocated from Greece to other countries in the European Union” asserts that these standards must be firmly rooted within international child rights legal frameworks, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the 1951 Refugee Convention which lays out the considerations under which international protection needs would be established.
In addition to international protection needs, several other principles should guide prioritization and selection criteria should be as flexible and open as possible to allow more categories of vulnerable people to be included in relocation.In all cases, the agencies say, a best interest assessment should always be completed to consider solutions in line with a child’s individual circumstances and best interests.
As of early April, there were more than 5,200 unaccompanied and separated children in Greece in urgent need of durable solutions, including expedited registration, family reunification and relocation. Among them, over 1,600 are exposed to severe risks, including exploitation and violence, and facing precarious conditions in over-crowded reception and identification centres on the Aegean islands.EU and Member State support is crucial to ensure their immediate protection in Greece, as well as their longer-term health and well-being including through relocation.
The Council of Europe & UNHCR support Member States in bringing refugee health workers into the COVID-19 response
#UNHCR; #UnitedKingdom; #RefugeeAgency; #RefugeeHealthProfessionals;
United Kingdom, Apr 14 (Canadian-Media): As many European countries continue to struggle with the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, the Council of Europe and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today encourage States to benefit from the support refugee health professionals can provide to national health systems at this critical juncture, UNHCR reports said.
Hadir, a refugee and research scientist resettled from Iraq, volunteers at an oncology unit at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport in the United Kingdom, in this January 2020 file picture. Image credit: © UNHCR/Laura Padoan
“In recent weeks, several States in Europe have publicly appealed for refugee health professionals to join in national responses to the virus. We fully support such initiatives and hope they can be further expanded across the continent and beyond,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“Medical professionals and health workers across the continent have responded to the pandemic with selfless determination, and all available help is needed at this time of crisis. Refugees with proven professional competencies are ready to step in and contribute if allowed to, under the supervision of certified health professionals. In this way, they can show their solidarity, and give back to the communities sheltering them.” said Grandi.
There are refugees and asylum seekers currently in Europe with the competences and relevant experience who are willing to get involved and help. But most health-related professions are tightly regulated and competent national health authorities need to give the necessary approvals.
“Refugees, their host societies and their home countries all benefit from the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees. The qualifications that refugees already have, but cannot fully document, can be used and can be built on,” said Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe.
“The EQPR is not a substitute for the necessary professional certificates and licences, but it does help the authorities speed things up by providing some of the background needed”.
The EQPR can help establish a qualified pool of pre-assessed refugee health practitioners, that will enable the national health authorities to determine how best to deploy refugee resources, if and when needed. UNHCR is engaging with partners to find innovative ways to reach out to refugee communities, identify willing health practitioners, and facilitate access to online tests. Both the Council of Europe and UNHCR are already working with partners from National Qualifications Recognition Centres to identify refugee health professionals and help assess their skills and credentials through this programme.
#UNHCR; #Covid19Pandemic; #Afghanistan; #Pakistan; #Iran
New York, Apr 14 (Canadian-Media): UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, urges greater support to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, warning that leaving Afghans and their host communities behind will have a far-reaching and negative impact on global efforts to fight the virus, UNHCR reports said.
A minivan fitted with speakers drives through the outskirts of Kabul informing residents about measures to prevent COVID-19 infection. Similar awareness-raising campaigns are underway across Afghanistan. Image credit: © Watan’s Social and Technical Services Association/Arif Sideqi
The coronavirus poses a very great threat to developing nations. An outbreak would put extraordinary strain on already fragile local health-care services and likely result in avoidable suffering and death.
As the race against time continues globally, UNHCR appeals to the international community to boost solidarity with all three countries, and have at this critical time to prevent a larger-scale outbreak of the coronavirus among the most vulnerable communities.
Despite persistent risks and insecurity, Afghans continue to return from both Iran and Pakistan. Tens of thousands of Afghan citizens have crossed over from Pakistan to Afghanistan since the temporary re-opening of the border last week. From Iran, while the number of Afghans nationals returning peaked at some 60,000 in March, around 1,500 individuals are currently returning every day.
Afghanistan faces the prospect of overwhelmed medical and social services, with a dramatic increase in Afghans returning home, hundreds of thousands of people living in displacement sites and rising poverty levels.
Pakistan and Iran, which host some 90 per cent of the world’s 2.7 million Afghan refugees are experiencing immense strain on their health systems and economies. Lockdown measures and a sharp downturn in economic activity have left many Afghan refugees confronted with an inability to meet even their most basic needs.
For Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan, the impacts of COVID-19 go far beyond health. In both countries, those who are employed are commonly hired as daily labourers.
Amidst various levels of lockdown across the region, such work has abruptly ceased and refugees with no income and their hosts are now faced with economic threats to their survival.
Afghans in Iran and Pakistan widely report serious difficulties in paying medical expenses and meeting the most basic living costs of food and accommodation, leading to many being forced to borrow money.
Over the last month, Iran’s State Welfare Organization has reported a very sharp increase in the number of requests for psychosocial support related to COVID-19 in domestic contexts – a critical trend that is being noticed in other COVID-19 affected countries around the world.
All three Governments are making concerted and commendable efforts to include displaced people in national plans and responses, but desperately need international support.
The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, facing the epicentre of the outbreak in
South-West Asia, has facilitated exemplary inclusion of Afghans on its territory. UNHCR welcomes Iran’s recent confirmation that COVID-19 related tests and treatment are free of charge for all individuals, including for refugees. Additionally, the country’s Universal Public Health Insurance has been automatically extended for refugees as well as Iranian nationals – ensuring uninterrupted access to healthcare for all refugees.
In Pakistan, relevant departments have also been directed to include both refugees and internally displaced people in relief and response measures.
In all three countries, UNHCR is adapting our operations constantly to these unique circumstances.
UNHCR has temporarily suspended supporting voluntary returns of refugees from Iran and Pakistan in an attempt to limit the risk of refugees and staff contracting the virus.
In Afghanistan, UNHCR is supporting the Government’s prevention efforts through awareness-raising in the most vulnerable communities and priority areas of return. Speakers mounted atop cars and trucks drive through towns and villages to spread accurate and reliable information that will save lives.
UNHCR is also helping the government better manage the flow of people into Afghanistan through hiring additional staff to boost the teams at the border and improving reception facilities allowing for more space. UNHCR has provided masks, disinfectants and other protective gear to government officials working at the border and in the communities so that they can protect themselves against the spread of COVID-19.
We are in the process of procuring more hygiene kits to be distributed among returnees and displaced communities as well as for the frontline staff of government institutions and our partners; scaling up the construction of water and sanitation facilities and further enhancing support for border surveillance and returnee monitoring in Afghanistan.
In Iran, UNHCR has airlifted essential medicines, medical equipment and personal protective equipment to support and strengthen national health services. To address the critical and urgent lack of hygiene materials in Iran, UNHCR has also distributed soap and disposable paper towels to some 7,500 refugee households living in refugee settlements across the country, whose living situations in close-quarters make then more vulnerable to COVID-19. More airlifts are expected in the coming weeks.
UNHCR has increased its capacity at Afghanistan’s borders to Iran to better be able to support tracking and contact tracing of individuals. Psychosocial support services continue to operate via phone.
In Pakistan, renewed emphasis has been placed on water and sanitation projects. UNHCR has provided 10 fully equipped ambulances and 28 large housing unit facilities to the provincial health departments and disaster management authorities in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. Medical equipment and sanitation products are also being distributed to rural health facilities in support of refugees and their host communities.
More support is desperately needed for Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan as part of collective efforts to combat COVID-19 worldwide. Despite the work being done across the subregion, the risk of the pandemic become unmanageable is now acute.
UNHCR’s funding appeal of some US$315 million required for the Afghan situation is merely 17 per cent funded.
UNHCR stepping up coronavirus prevention measures for displaced across East, Horn and Great Lakes region of Africa
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New York, Apr 7 (Canadian-Media): UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is ramping up efforts to increase capacity to prevent, treat and limit the potential spread of COVID-19 among refugee communities across the East, Horn and Great Lakes region of Africa, which hosts some of the largest refugee populations in the world, UNHCR reports said.
Living in crowded conditions, without adequate access to water and sanitation facilities, and with precarious livelihoods and food security, refugees in the region are particularly vulnerable to the virus, both in refugee camps and in urban areas.
Following confirmation of the first cases of COVID-19 in South Sudan and Eritrea last week, all countries in the region are now responding to the outbreak. While to date there have been no confirmed cases amongst refugees, asylum-seekers or internally displaced people in the region, the need to be prepared is urgent.
UNHCR is actively engaged with Ministries of Health and other government authorities, and the World Health Organization, on the inclusion of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people (IDPs) in national response plans. A number of countries in the region already have exemplary policies in place that allow refugees to access public health-care services. However, many refugees live in remote areas many miles from the nearest government health facilities. Others live in small, overcrowded dwellings in densely populated urban areas where they face significant challenges in adhering to guidelines around physical and social distancing.
Many of our operations in the region have provided refugees increased quantities of food and basic relief items including soap to reduce the frequency of distributions and the risks posed by queues and large crowds.
The outbreak comes on the top of existing emergency conditions in the region, where 60 per cent of refugees are experiencing food ration cuts due to underfunding. This may be further exacerbated by breaks in the regular supply chain due to a variety of COVID-19 measures, including border restrictions and controls.
The pandemic is also having a severe impact on refugees’ abilities to work and generate income. Many refugees have seen the business they run or work for, often as day workers, forced to close. Those who rely on cross-border trade have been particularly impacted.
UNHCR is advocating to governments to ensure refugees are included in any emergency social protection schemes, while also exploring possibilities to provide the most vulnerable with one-off cash assistance to help meet basic needs.
Schools across the region have been closed and it is estimated that some one million refugee students are currently out of school. UNHCR is working with government and non-government partners on distance-learning and digital-learning programs, building on existing partnerships with the private sector to provide online learning in Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Across the region, UNHCR is engaged in COVID-19 awareness, prevention and treatment information campaigns, including through community groups and religious leaders, telephone hotlines, flyers, posters, bulk SMS and WhatsApp messaging, radio announcements, focus group discussions, leaflets, billboards and mural drawings.
While bolstering primary-care capacity, including isolation facilities at camp level, we are concerned that health systems across the region are in need of support, particularly to referral hospitals and intensive care units, in case the virus rapidly spreads.
We continue to support the efforts of countries across the region, together with UN agencies and NGO partners, maintaining existing programmes where possible, and implementing a number of new measures to address humanitarian needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including:
In Djibouti, more than 4,500 refugees and asylum-seekers were provided with new shelters to reduce overcrowding and facilitate physical distancing in Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl villages.
In Ethiopia, supplies of water and soap in the camps are being increased and handwashing stations are being installed, including 127 communal stations and over 14,700 household stations in Gambella refugee camp alone.
In Kenya, isolation wards have been identified with additional beds added in the country’s two refugee camps. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is being given to health workers in clinics, while an assessment is underway to identify possible new locations for field clinics to provide health care in refugee camps. The distributions of food, soap and other items have been altered to adhere to social distancing standards. Refugees who have mobile phones are sent messages communicating COVID-19 information and prevention measures.
In Somalia, shelters are being improved and provisions of relief items increased to help with social and physical distancing for the large IDP populations. High-risk IDP sites are being targeted for decongestion and upgrading of shelter and provision of relief items, with plans for UNHCR to support 27,600 IDPs living in high-density IDP sites.
In Sudan, more than 320,000 refugees, IDPs and members of host communities across the country have received soap and other hygiene relief items. A 1,000-litre water tank was installed in Beliel registration centre, South Darfur. New refugee arrivals in eastern Sudan are having their temperature taken upon arrival and monitored for two weeks for symptoms.
In Tanzania, monthly provisions of soap have been doubled and larger jerry cans have been distributed to aid with handwashing in all three refugee camps. Additional handwashing stations have been installed, including new fittings at reception centres, distribution points, markets and schools.
In Uganda, a number of measures were already in place as a result of the response to the threat of Ebola, including health and temperature screening and increased handwashing facilities in, transit and reception centres as well as in refugee settlements. In addition, distributions of soap have been increased and health workers are being provided with additional training specifically on COVID-19.
All countries in the region have introduced strict movement measures, ranging from border closures to lockdowns and curfews. UNHCR urges these countries, some of which have generously hosted refugees for decades, to continue to provide protection and access to asylum to people fleeing war and persecution during this challenging time.
A part of the broader UN Global Humanitarian Response Plan, UNHCR issued an Emergency Appeal requesting US$255 million for life-saving interventions and preparations in response to COVID-19, of which an initial $15 million has been requested specifically for countries in East and Horn of Africa. UNHCR urges the international community to provide the requested financial support needed to ensure the health and safety of refugees, IDPs and host communities during this crisis.
UNHCR’s Bureau for the East and Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region covers 11 countries: Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda.
Relevant broadcast-quality footage is available for download on UNHCR's content platform Refugees Media.
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Geneva, Apr 3 (Canadian-Media): Migrants and refugees hosted at UN-run reception centres in Bosnia-Herzegovina, are learning to cope with the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, UN reports said.
Many classes for children at migrant and refugee reception centres in Bosnia — such as this one in Sedra — have gone online. Image credit: UNICEF/ IOM Bosnia & Herzegovina
“We fled from home to save our lives, to escape war, and now we are faced with this new coronavirus”, says Rozhan, Along with her husband, Ibrahim, and her three children, she made a long and arduous journey from Iraq, her home country, to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Europe.
The family are hosted at the Borići reception centre in Bihać, managed by UN Migration (IOM) along with 315 other migrants and refugees, who have escaped conflict and violence in countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
En route, they have been stopped and searched and detained, and they have just endured the frosts of winter. But now, they face a new, and unexpected challenge.
“I first heard of coronavirus here at the centre”, she says. “Everyone was talking about it, and there were posters explaining how we should protect ourselves.”
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UN agencies working around the clock
While the number of COVID-19 cases in Bosnia and Herzegovina is still considered manageable — under 500 as of 1 April — the infection rate is rising fast and is expected to peak in the coming weeks.
The authorities have taken measures to prevent the spread of the disease nationwide, such as curfews and school closures, as well as restrictions on movement in and out of the reception centres.
Meanwhile, UN agencies have been working around the clock with the authorities to ensure that some of the most vulnerable of people in the country — around 5,500 migrants and refugees hosted in the country’s reception centres — are protected, too.
With schools closed, learning goes online
“Most refugee and migrant children have already lost several years of schooling,” says Amila Madžak, an officer with UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina. “The COVID-19 pandemic makes their experience even more difficult, now that all schools have been closed.”
For children residing in three temporary reception centers — Borići, Sedra and Bira — online classes have been organized by UNICEF and Save the Children in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, and with the support of the European Union. “We are making sure that these kids have access to public education, including online education”, says Madžak.
In the country’s Una-Sana region, teachers from schools attended by refugee and migrant children, have been doing the hard work of preparing materials for online classes, including live streaming or preparing videos with schoolwork instructions.
“Given that teachers weren’t trained in online education, it’s a challenge for us to adapt”, says Senka Rekanović, a local teacher. “But we’re already achieving a lot, including higher attendance rates. We have ‘cultural mediators’ who are helping children access lessons online and follow instructions for their homework. I’m proud of our kids”.
“When learning online, children from the centres need more psycho-social support and more help overcoming language barriers”, says Adnan Kreso, adviser to the Minister of Education of Una-Sana. “But thanks to our dedicated educators and the support of UNICEF and Save the Children, we’re meeting those needs”.
Some in-person classes are taking place at reception centres, too, only with smaller groups of children, all of whom are given personal protective equipment and disinfectant.
Taking care in uncertain times
UN Migration (IOM) is working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among people in the centres.
The agency has installed sanitizer stations, is educating staff and residents about safety, and has stepped up cleaning of the facility.
In line with social distancing guidelines, community kitchens have been temporarily closed, to avoid large gatherings.
Despite the disruption to their lives, Rozhan and her family understand why the new measures are necessary. “We are safe here”, she says.