UN refugee chief concludes Jordan visit with call for solidarity amid COVID crisis
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, continues to ramp up measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among Jordan’s refugee population and is seeking to mobilize additional resources for the country’s overall pandemic response, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said at the conclusion of a two-day visit to the Kingdom on 14-15 September.
The High Commissioner’s visit included meetings with senior government officials, refugees and local Jordanians. His visit came after a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in the country including the first six confirmed cases among Syrians living in the two main refugee camps, Za’atari and Azraq.
“I am grateful to Jordan as a major refugee host country for its continued hospitality and efforts to include refugees in the national health system and coronavirus response plan,” Grandi said. “I urge donors to maintain solidarity with Jordan as it deals with the twin threats to health and livelihoods faced by refugees and vulnerable Jordanians alike.”
Jordan currently hosts around 750,000 registered refugees, including more than 658,000 from the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
UNHCR is working closely with the Government of Jordan to support the humanitarian response to the pandemic and its longer-term economic impact. It has provided protective equipment to hospitals and health clinics, distributed medication to refugees and built quarantine areas in Zaatari and Azraq.
“In addition, we are making sure that whatever resources we mobilize for health care related to the pandemic can be used by everybody – by the refugees and by Jordanians. The virus does not make any distinction and nor should we,” Grandi said.
The affordability of healthcare remains a challenge for many refugees, who often rely on UNHCR to get the treatment they need. In 2020, over US$1 million will be distributed to refugees as part of UNHCR’s cash for health programme and 36,000 refugees referred to hospitals for secondary and tertiary healthcare at a cost of US$5.2 million. Despite this, over 2,000 refugees are currently on UNHCR’s waiting list for medical treatment due to a lack of funds.
The High Commissioner met refugees from Syria and Sudan who were receiving treatment free-of-cost at Luzmila Hospital in the capital Amman, thanks to cooperation between UNHCR and its health care partners.
During his visit, Grandi also met refugee and local Jordanian students benefiting from UNHCR scholarships at Luminus Technical University College in Amman. With only 3 percent of refugees globally able to access higher education, Luminus provides vocational training and diplomas for refugee youth alongside their Jordanian counterparts, then actively matches their skills to employment opportunities upon graduation.
Almost ten years into the Syria conflict, 79 percent of refugees in Jordan live under the poverty line and the coronavirus crisis has only exacerbated this situation. It is estimated that approximately 17 percent of Jordanians and a third of refugees have lost their jobs during the pandemic. As a result, UNHCR is investing in livelihoods programmes to encourage refugees to become self-sufficient and thus contribute to improve the overall economic situation in the Kingdom.
Following his visit to Jordan, Grandi will be continuing onto Syria.