Being a refugee during COVID-19

As COVID-19 (Coronavirus 2019) reaches every region of the world, we have been told to practice social distancing or to only leave home for essential things like groceries and doctor’s appointments. We are also told to take extra care with hygiene such as washing our hands with soap for 20 seconds several times a day. But what happens if you are a refugee or an asylum seeker who is fleeing war, violence and poverty?

Globally, more than 126 million people need humanitarian assistance. However, in response to the virus, governments are closing borders and restricting travel and movement in attempts to halt the pandemic’s progression. While these measures will help flatten the curve in some communities, it will not stop people from fleeing dangerous situations. Rather than using established border crossings, families and individuals will find alternative ways to try to find safety.

Plan International hands out sanitizer handcraft kits in Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. The kit contains materials needed to make face masks and other protective equipment.

Imagine if you fled your home due to violence. After walking for hundreds of miles, you arrive at a camp that is overflowing with people just like you who are struggling to understand the experience that just happened while also trying to perform daily life tasks. Getting water, making a fire, obtaining and preparing food all take time and effort. The lines for showers can be long and water supplies only allow for minimal washing.

Already vulnerable people will find themselves in overcrowded camps and communities where up to millions of displaced people live – with often severely limited access to clean water, soap and sanitation facilities. Social distancing and maintaining regular personal hygiene are huge challenges in these situations. To make matters worse, public health services are often weak due to conflict or lack of supplies and, with minimal access to media, people lack awareness and information about the virus and how to protect themselves.

This is a disaster waiting to happen. Especially for girls.

Girls face challenges to their health while on the move or in refugee camps. This includes managing their periods without access to regular sanitation or menstrual hygiene management products. Girls also face increased risks of sexual violence or trafficking during times of disruption. This is because of things like financial insecurity, not having access to safe places like school or well-lit public areas, and the chaos that can surround fleeing from your home. The possibility that girls’ families may force them to marry in order to lessen the financial strain is real. In addition, the ability to go to school is disrupted and some may never regain the opportunities that education provided them.

What to do?

Plan International works in refugee and Internally Displaced Persons camps and with migrants and asylum seekers around the world. We are seeing how the virus might spread like wildfire should it reach a camp or the vulnerable countries where many migrants await asylum. To prepare these vulnerable populations, Plan is working to:

  • Assemble personal hygiene and menstrual hygiene management kits, as well as provide basic needs such as food.
  • Set-up handwashing stations and provide guidance on how to use and maintain these stations.
  • Provide access to clean water sources.
  • Disseminate hygiene promotion messaging, as well as COVID-19 prevention, symptoms and treatment information through community outreach, printed materials, radio and local hotlines.
  • Provide referrals and linkages to psychosocial support and legal, health and protection services.
  • Train girls to lead awareness raising activities in their communities and to create personal protective gear like masks.

How can you help?

Our work to support refugee girls and families in crisis cannot happen without your support. People like you make it possible for us to respond to this pandemic and continue our work to protect refugees in crisis. The inequalities of the most vulnerable are only heightened during emergencies, and they need your support now more than ever.