United Nations refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi on Tuesday urged solidarity for Jordan's efforts to help refugees who face threats to their health and their livelihoods from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“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 at the end of a two-day visit to the Kingdom.
“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.”
UNHCR is continuing to ramp up measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among Jordan’s refugee population and is seeking more resources to aid the country’s overall pandemic response, Grandi said.
During his visit to Jordan on Monday and Tuesday, Grandi held talks with senior government officials, refugees and members of the public, according to a UNHCR statement.
Grandi's visit came after a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in the country including the first six confirmed cases among Syrians living in Jordan's two main refugee camps, Zaatari and Azraq, said the statement.
Jordan currently hosts around 750,000 registered refugees, including more than 658,000 from the conflict in neighbouring Syria, according to UNHCR.
UNHCR is working closely with Jordan's government to aid its humanitarian response to COVID-19 and the pandemic's longer-term economic impact. The UN agency has provided protective equipment to hospitals and health clinics, distributed medication to refugees and built quarantine areas in Zaatari and Azraq, the statement said.
“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 response to this situation, over US$1 million will be distributed to refugees this year as part of UNHCR’s cash for health programmes and 36,000 refugees referred to hospitals for secondary and tertiary healthcare at a cost of US$5.2 million, the agency said.
More than 2,000 refugees are currently on UNHCR’s waiting list for medical treatment due to a lack of funds despite existing programmes, the UNHCR statement said.
During his visit, Grandi met efugees from Syria and Sudan who were receiving free medical treatment at Luzmila Hospital in the capital Amman, thanks to cooperation between UNHCR and its health care partners.
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.
Nearly a decade after the start of the Syria conflict in 2011, 79 percent of refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line and the coronavirus emergency has exacerbated this situation, UNHCR noted.
An estimated 17 percent of Jordanians and a third of refugees have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting UNHCR to invest in livelihoods initiatives to encourage refugees to become self-sufficient, thus helping Jordan's economy, said the agency
Grandi was due to travel from Jordan to Syria, the statement concluded.