Message to refugees from the UNHCR Representative in Lebanon
Ladies and gentlemen,
The current situation is extremely challenging.We have received messages from many of you expressing your very legitimate concerns about the public health emergency caused by the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Lebanon, which is also further aggravating the impact that the economic crisis is having on everyone’s lives and well-being.
UNHCR would like to provide an update on these two points: economic difficulties and health risks.
We are eminently aware that this COVID-19 crisis and associated restrictions of movement and economic activities are further increasing the hardship faced by many, particularly in the past six months with the economic crisis affecting the country. The cash and food support programmes will not be interrupted during the lockdown period; however, we are conscious that they remain limited and are not reaching all those who would need it.
UNHCR and other UN agencies have been pleading with donors for additional resources to be able to expand the programme to more vulnerable families at this very difficult time.We have for now secured some resources to provide support to an additional 11,000 families in April and May and we hope to be able to multiply this number as more resources come in. We will not spare efforts in this regard. This is critical.
From a health perspective, UNHCR is working around the clock to secure an additional 800 hospital beds and 100 Intensive Care Unit beds across 7 hospitals to ensure that no refugee will be refused access to hospital care for lack of sufficient hospital beds.
Fortunately, at the moment, while a number of refugees have been tested for COVID-19, all tests proved negative.But it is likely that refugees may be affected at some point, like the rest of the population, and require hospitalization or isolation at home and we need to be ready.As you would have seen through SMS and communication on social media, the costs of testing and hospitalization will be for free if required for anyone among the refugee community affected by COVID-19 (either through the national system or fully covered by UNHCR).
Persons with just mild symptoms of COVID-19 who will not require hospitalisation, will be asked to isolate at home.We have developed guidance in this regard and will be advising family members in each case.The risk for the virus to spread is higher in overcrowded settings such as tented settlements or collective buildings. This is why these places have been the focus of our prevention efforts so far.UNHCR together with UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies have conducted awareness sessions in most settlements across the country and we are now starting a second round. These sessions are accompanied with distribution of hygiene products (soap, sanitizer and bleach) to each family in the settlements.Individual distributions are also taking place such as for example for single elderly persons in town.
When COVID-19 positive cases are identified, it will be important to separate them to protect their family members and at the same time to help them access basic necessities.When separation within the home is not possible, UNHCR will be setting up a separate tent within the settlement.We count on your mobilization and solidarity with those affected.Communal buildings are also being identified throughout the country should the number of people requiring isolation increase and exceed the settlement space capacity.
The most important to avoid the spread of the virus among the refugee community is prevention.You would have received the various messages UNHCR sent in this regard or perhaps seen our leaflets and videos on social media.We rely on you to help us relay messages of caution among your family and friends, organize yourselves in a way to restrict movements to the maximum extent and to adopt safe behaviours such as social distancing, frequent handwashing or monitoring signs of anyone feeling unwell in the family. If you have symptoms like fever, breathing difficulties or dry cough, please call immediately the Ministry of Public Health on 01-594459 (COVID-19 hotline) for a diagnosis and advice on what to do, including transport arrangements if needed. This is important, for your health and the health of your loved ones.
In this regard, UNHCR is calling on all medically trained persons (medical doctors, nurses, pharmacists, assistant doctors, etc.) within the refugee community to join our efforts in assisting to protect each other.If you are medically trained and willing to help, please contact UNHCR at the numbers at the end of this message.
Together we will combat this virus and keep everyone safe.
The next few weeks will be very challenging.We would like to thank you for the precautions you are taking to protect your families and community.Everyone has a role to play and a contribution to make at this difficult time.UNHCR as all humanitarian agencies will continue to work by your side.
UNHCR Representative to Lebanon