By Filipe Almeida
The Covid-19 situation has caused massive suffering for the whole world. A calamity that has prevented many from working for their livelihood. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable people and those in extreme poverty are those who suffer the most in this situation. Refugees are among the most vulnerable. According to the latest report by UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – the world today has about 25.9 million refugees, which, together with displaced persons and asylum seekers, totals about 70.8 million people. Of this number, around 27 million are children and young people up to 18 years old. These are people living in situations of vulnerability, the vast majority living in developing countries where health facilities have fewer beds and ventilators.
According to the article “Refugee and migrant health in the Covid-19 response” in ‘The Lancet’, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, announced on March 7 the temporary suspension of resettlement programme for refugees due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, this will cause many to suffer various persecutions and be vulnerable to the Corona virus.
Other changes for the displaced have also occurred: According to the article quoted above from ‘The Lancet’, search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean, where more than 16,000 migrants have died since 2015, have been suspended due to the difficulties faced at this time. Before border closings due to Covid-19, few search and rescue operations were carried out. The migrants rescued in this period were taken to the reception center for immediate quarantine.
In refugee camps in the Middle East and some European countries (such as in Calais, France), conditions are worrying, as refugees they live in inadequate living conditions and are subject to overcrowding, with the lack of basic sanitation, water and soap. These refugee camps have few doctors and poor access to health information. On April 6, the Greek government reported that two refugee camps in Athens had confirmed cases from Covid-19. These refugee lives that already suffered biopsychosocial consequences due to forced migration, such as mourning, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Ulysses syndrome (referring to loneliness), generalized anxiety, adjustment disorders, cultural shock, among others, now face the global uncertainties of this terrible virus.
For refugees living in the city, the so-called urban refugees, access to the basic health system is challenging because there is a language barrier and they face financial difficulties: for many it is because they are in developing countries. It is common to hear testimonies from urban refugees about social isolation and loneliness and with Covid-19 this gets worse. How many may be feeling even more lonely at this time. Many will have taken time to understand the seriousness of the current situation because they are not speaking or communicating well in the language of the country in which they live. How many others will have delays with respect to decisions on legal status or not, as well as other types of legal and administrative services? How sad to think that refugees, along with other vulnerable groups, are at enormous risk these days.
However, on the other hand, it is possible to see practical examples of encouraging solidarity in favor of refugees in Covid-19 times, such as:
- A hotel in Madrid received Venezuelan refugees and homeless people to stay in the quarantine period;
- World Vision in Chile provided shelter for Venezuelan refugee families who had dengue (tropical disease), providing shelter and food for families to be safe in this time;
- A group of Scouts in Geneva – Switzerland, are organizing online solidarity movements for refugees.
Other encouraging examples are refugees who are fighting the Corona virus. Here are some brief reports:
- In Iran, refugee nurse Moheyman is working 12-hour shifts putting his skills into the fight against Covid-19;
- Hassan, a Syrian refugee who has lived in London for some years, said it is “an honor, after training, to be part of an army that with cleaning products disinfect the wards of Covid-19”, and adds: “London has been my home since we left Syria and the least I can do is ensure that my neighbors and the incredible NHS team are safe and sound”;
- Syrian children in Spain made drawings and wrote messages of thanks and encouragement to hospital health teams;
In this way, it is possible to see refugees – both children and adults – fighting Covid-19, including some on the front line. It is these refugees, who have been received in a dignified and fair manner, who are cooperating in the countries where they live with professionalism and empathy. Many of these refugees can teach civil society to be resilient in these times!
Among the various verses found in the Bible regarding the duty to welcome the stranger, it is possible to find in Jesus’ words very direct teaching:
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25:35-36 New International Version (NIV)
In light of this biblical passage, what can we do for refugees in the time of Covid-19? In case you know refugees or have them as neighbors. Here are some suggestions:
– Connect refugee families with Shirley and Filipe and they will be able to support you in developing relationships and provide them with support (even if it is online);
– Pray with the refugee over the phone, if you feel like it, and demonstrate in a natural way that God is our strength and refuge (Psalm 46.1).
Another practical response to Refugees and Covid-19 is to pray. Here are some prayer requests:
– For the holistic health of refugees;
– For the provision of shelter and food;
– For governments to have a fair response that shows carewith refugees;
– For foundations, organizations and churches that develop projects with refugees;
– For those living in refugee camps and for health teams and other areas on the front lines;
– So that even if online, people are awakened to develop friendships with refugees and in this way can encourage them;
– So that at this time, many refugees can receive through Christians a message of hope from the Father who gives strength and is the true refuge!
There are many risks faced by everyone in the face of Covid-19, but in this crisis, the mission of serving refugees and showing the Father’s love is constant! For in the crisis, practice in social causes and service to others must still continue! What reflections like this motivate everyone to move (even if online), for the most vulnerable. Reflections like this, encourage people to reinvent themselves in serving the King of kings, and as part of His kingdom and what He is doing in the world!
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