Syrian refugees vulnerable in Covid-19 pandemic

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Elham Amwar gets help from his children Rema and Ayman as they carry water back to their family’s shelter in the Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan. ACT Alliance member agencies provide a variety of services to refugees living in the camp. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance  

Amidst the coronavirus crisis, a community radio station supported by WACC Global in Amman, Jordan, is making sure that the plight of Syrians living in refugee camps in the Middle East is not forgotten. 

Radio Al Balad, operated by thCommunity Media Network (CMN), a local NGO, has been using its airwaves to call attention to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on refugees.  

Jordan hosts 656,000 registered refugees from the nine-year conflict in neighbouring Syria, according to the UNHCR, and like the rest of the country, have been on lockdown since March 21 in response to the pandemic, according to the UNHCR.  

“Syrian refugees are largely cooped up in camps and other locations,” said CMN’s Daoud Kuttab. “So far, no reports have been made about any Syrian refugee having contracted the coronavirus. However, it is not clear if the reason is lack of contact or lack of testing.” 

There are fears, however, that if refugees get infected by Covid-19,  the disease could easily spread in the camps since thousands live in tight quartersThe camps are equipped only with basic health and sanitation facilities, according to the UNHCR. “Sanitation and hygiene levels are not ideal. We’re talking about a refugee camp, and facilities are challenging,” said Mohammad Tahir, a UNHCR external relations officer. “A large portion of the population are children, and it’s hard to make them understand the need for isolation and extra handwashing. My real concern is that this is a very crowded environment, so if we do have cases it will be very hard to contain.” 

Kuttab added that, “If the virus spreads, there will be a lot of pressure on Jordan’s medical communities.” As of April 5, Jordan had 349 Covid-19 cases, according to the World Health Organization.  

The education and livelihood of camp residents have also been affected by the lockdown.  “Most Syrians work in day jobs which have all stopped because of the lockdown,” said Kuttab “Students who are now forced to follow their education online suffer because of lack or weak Internet lines.” 

THE UNCHR has provided cash and food assistance to registered refugees, said Kuttab, adding that Radio Al Balad has been used as a platform for these additional services.  

“Our radio program is continuing and is providing badly-needed information,” said Kuttab. “We are broadcasting three times a week, but we would love to do more because there is a lot of issues that we are not able to follow up on.”  

Kuttab urged people not to forget the Syrian refugees by donating to the UNHCR.