Fully one per cent of humanity is fleeing conflict or persecution.
That is the sobering highlight of the Global Trends report on forced displacement that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released ahead of World Refugee Day, which is marked on June 20.
Over half of the world’s 79.5 million forcibly displaced people are uprooted within their own countries and 26 million are refugees in other countries. Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Burma together are the source of 68 per cent of refugees.
With the support of Global Affairs Canada and through a new $600,000 COVID-19 Solidarity Fund, Development and Peace — Caritas Canada is serving several of these displaced populations even as the ongoing pandemic is making it harder for them to remain healthy, earn a living, access services and find safe spaces.
Through a one-year, $1-million project, our partner, Caritas Bangladesh, will help over 8,200 Rohingya refugees design and build better shelters and infrastructure in their refugee camps. This work, critical to people’s safety and dignity, now faces the hurdles of the weather and the virus.
Last month’s narrow escape from Cyclone Amphan exposed the camps’ vulnerability. With the weatherproofing of shelters having been interrupted by the pandemic lockdown, Caritas Bangladesh has to be prepared for emergency action should a monsoon storm hit.
With Cox’s Bazar District designated a COVID-19 Red Zone, movement within, into and from the refugee camps is severely restricted. A Caritas Bangladesh community centre now serves as a COVID-19 isolation ward. Conditions are ripe for an outbreak, which would have disastrous consequences.
To help contain the contagion, Caritas Bangladesh is distributing face masks and hygiene supplies and delivering pandemic prevention information. They are also raising awareness to dispel misinformation and combat stigma about COVID-19.
An allocation from Development and Peace’s new solidarity fund will help Caritas Bangladesh provide cash grants to 300 of the poorest families. Special efforts will be made to address the needs of women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities, whose existing disadvantages make them more vulnerable to pandemic-related adversities.
A $2-million grant from Global Affairs Canada will help our partner, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) provide primary and specialized healthcare services to over 22,000 internally displaced persons in Aleppo, Syria. With allocations from our solidarity fund, JRS and other partners will also deliver pandemic-specific health-related services to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.
The lockdown is being gradually lifted across Syria, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought massive inflation in its wake. This has made life ever more difficult for a populace already impoverished by nearly a decade of conflict.
Food prices have increased by 300 per cent and housing costs are up 40 per cent. Surgeries now cost thrice what they did months ago, and specialized medicines are now five times more expensive. The costs of laboratory work, radiology services and hygiene supplies have ballooned by 150 to 200 per cent.
The resultant acute shortages, disruptions and financial strain make recovering from the pandemic vastly more challenging. It is also feared that sanctions under America’s new Caesar Act will, despite its provision for humanitarian exceptions, further constrain relief efforts.
Our partner, the National Secretariat of Pastoral Social – Caritas Colombia will use a $900,000 grant from Global Affairs Canada to provide a range of services to Venezuelan refugees in Colombia.
COVID-19 is causing much additional hardship to people fleeing economic and political turmoil in Venezuela. Their desire to return has been thwarted by the pandemic. Those who can return risk bringing back the coronavirus from countries like Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, where infection rates are high. Returnees are therefore stigmatized as vectors of disease.
Many Venezuelans crossed the Colombian border almost daily to do ad hoc jobs, get essential supplies and seek safety. The pandemic has closed the border down and curtailed Venezuelans’ mobility across the region. This has left hundreds of thousands of them stranded in cramped camps in Colombia and made Caritas Colombia’s work ever more urgent and relevant.
Its shelter, nutrition, medical and psychosocial services are vital for the mounting numbers of children and women, many of whom are pregnant or lactating, who wind up in the streets. Hosteling services are helping COVID-19-affected persons quarantine themselves safely. Caritas Colombia is also providing pandemic prevention information and hygiene supplies to refugees.
Legal advice from Caritas Colombia is helping many refugees understand and defend their rights, fight unfair or illegal evictions and avail COVID-related government services. Once the lockdowns are eased, refugees will also be given transport vouchers to facilitate their movement in search of better prospects.
Across the world, our partners are thus discovering that supporting marginalized communities, an arduous task at the best of times, is becoming an ever-greater challenge during this pandemic. To them, your solidarity and generosity are now more important than ever before.