Brussels, Belgium , 23 April 2020 — With a case of COVID-19 now confirmed among the refugee population in Lebanon, Matias Meier- Country Director for the IRC - said:
“Although strict measures have been put in place to try and protect refugees, a case of COVID-19 has now been detected in one of the most vulnerable communities in the country. We’ve been working hard to raise awareness about how people in the communities we support can keep themselves safe, but many are extremely concerned about how they are going to be able to do this, given the conditions in which they live. In the informal settlements, people’s homes are so closely packed together that it simply isn’t realistic for them to practice social distancing. Even those who live in rented houses are struggling to do this, because so many people are living together in single rooms. Access to soap and clean water are also limited - 73 per cent of those we spoke to in a recent survey said they lacked soap and other hygiene items - so they are extremely worried about what is going to happen to them over the coming weeks.
“Already facing difficulties before the lockdown, many have been completely cut-off from their sources of income and are struggling to pay their rent. 61 per cent of those we spoke to said they were worried about being evicted. On top of that, people have no idea how they are going to be able to provide for their families: 87 per cent of households we spoke to said that lack of food was a critical concern for them - and this figure jumped to 97 per cent for those with a family member who has a disability.
“We are continuing to raise awareness of prevention and containment measures against COVID-19 in the communities where we work by phone and via WhatsApp, and we’re providing emergency cash assistance to highly vulnerable people, such as those who cannot afford their medication, the disabled, elderly people living alone or those who have no money to buy food and have had to resort to sending their children out to beg.
“There is some positive news, in that 67 per cent of those we spoke to said they were aware of the number to call if they suspect a case of COVID-19 - but there are still many who are in the dark and every effort must be made to reach them. With this case now confirmed in the Bekaa Valley, more needs to be done to ensure that all those at risk are in a position to be able to protect themselves and their loved ones. In particular, more funding is needed for the COVID response, but on top of that, efforts must be made to avoid a “double emergency” and mitigate the secondary impacts of this pandemic, such as increased hunger and loss of livelihoods. Providing refugees with information must be coupled with direct assistance - especially food assistance, as this is consistently identified as the most urgent need by refugees themselves.”