Battling Coronavirus in Refugee Camps

As if fear of violence and conflict was not enough, refugee camps are now in turmoil because of the rapid spread of the corona virus. According to the UNHCR, out of 100 countries reporting confirmed covid19 cases, 34 are home to major refugee populations. In densely crowded informal settlements, the safety of thousands of displaced civilians is at high risk. Thousands of refugees face dire living conditions on a daily basis. In Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, over 78 000 Syrian refugees are living in an insalubrious environment where one can barely maintain social distancing. How is it possible to contain Covid-19 outbreaks with a population density of 24,212/km2 and in the absence of health care? How can they possibly survive? In fact, there is more than one factor or complication to take into consideration when tackling this problem.

First, lack of hygiene and sanitation facilities is a major issue. If one is lucky and has access to clean water, there is no soap. If no generous charity comes into play, masks and hand sanitizers are nowhere to be found. Moreover, in such overpopulated spaces, residents usually have to walk miles to reach endless lines of people waiting to use unsanitary communal toilets, raising the possibility of contamination. People are already suffering from health issues; this pandemic is exacerbating their situation even more.

Secondly, travel restrictions hinder the arrival of vital assistance and humanitarian nonprofits. For example, many volunteer health workers are struggling to lend their hand for those in need during these uncertain times. Besides, food distribution is becoming increasingly limited according to local officials. Hence, the fate of numerous vulnerable people has become a concern of many around the world.

Thirdly, as schools are shutting their doors to prevent the spread of the virus, children are now taken away from the safety and the protection of their schools where they used to experience a taste of normality. Education was their only way out to escape the nightmare that plagued them for years. Today, the refugee camp is their sole playground.

Finally, asylum applications are being postponed or suspended as borders are being closed over time. Therefore, young ambitious asylum seekers can’t rebuild their life abroad away from torments.

Refugees sheltering under fragile tents are on the frontline of human misery. An outbreak would have catastrophic repercussions.  If God forbid the virus takes hold, their concern would not be how to treat the ill but how to bury the dead. Assisting them is a daunting task. However, our common humanity ought to be our drive and priority. The World Youth Alliance has always advocated for solidarity and treating others with respect for their core human dignity. During these unprecedented times, WYA can serve as a platform to raise awareness about the existing state of emergency inside refugee camps. I invite you all to sign up as WYA members as you will be able to post blogs such as this one to spread the word and perhaps reach donors, volunteers, and aid groups.

Published: August 6, 2020
Written by Sanae Ziadi, a WYA Middle East online intern from Morocco