Alongside our sister UN agencies and other partner organizations, we have been closely following the developments as well as the guidance on COVID-19 issued by the World Health Organization (WHO). The outbreak is a global challenge that must be addressed through international solidarity and cooperation. It also serves as a reminder that in order to effectively combat any public health emergency, everyone – including refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants – should be able to access health facilities and services in a non-discriminatory manner.
UNHCR’s response to COVID 19 (“coronavirus”) builds on its experience in SARS, influenza and ebola outbreaks. The coronavirus situation is dynamic and more information on the virus and its behavior is emerging all the time. UNHCR has been closely monitoring the situation and its possible effects on forcibly displaced populations.
In this fast-changing environment, we look forward to closely working with you to put in place preparedness measures that protect colleagues, refugees and other people of concern in a responsible and coordinated manner. Ensuring access to reliable information is crucial and we take this opportunity to share with you a few links with relevant information, including the latest updates and guidance from WHO on COVID-19 outbreak and how to protect yourself, as well as the UN advisory on travel:
UNHCR operations have been advised to undertake preparedness measures in line with national ministries of health and to closely coordinate prevention and response measures with other UN agencies, national authorities and partner organizations. An advisory has been circulated to all UNHCR operations and they are currently assessing needs at the country level, including assessing:
- Epidemiological surveillance for investigation of alerts, case detection and contact tracing in collaboration with ministries of health, WHO and partners, including at points of entry and refugee sites.
- Health partner capacity to respond in the event of an outbreak in refugee camps and settlements.
- Need for training of health workers in refugee sites on case definitions, management of alerts, disease identification and management.
- Strengthening communications with communities with information on hygiene measures, using available national community education programmes and adapting communication materials to suit local linguistic and cultural needs, including level of literacy.
- Prevention and control, including by ensuring adequate access to clean water, sanitation and waste disposal in health facilities, collective shelters and the community; soap, narrow necked water containers, and covered buckets for households. Ensuring infection control in health centres is adequate and staff trained.
As governments take measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, UNHCR calls on States to ensure that the rights of refugees and other people of concern are respected should restrictions on entry, travel, and freedom of movement be imposed.
We encourage all our partners to engage and collaborate closely with UNHCR at the country level.
More information is available in our press release: https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2020/3/5e677f634/un-refugee-agency-steps-covid-19-preparedness-prevention-response-measures.html.