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Empowering refugees in fighting Coronavirus

UN Secretary General Antoni Guterres observes that many refugees across the world have put their lives on the line to save humanity in efforts at fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

António Guterres
UN chief António Guterres. Photo credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

In his message to mark the 2020 World Refugee Day, he commended the selflessness of the refugees, noting that their resourcefulness has justified the importance of the theme of the latest observance of the day: “Everyone can make a difference, every action count”.

He called on world leaders to re-establish the integrity of the international refugee protection regime, implement pledges made by the Global Refugee Forum, so that refugees and host communities can receive the support they need.

Guterres said: “Refugees and displaced persons are also prominent among those who are stepping up to make a difference on the frontline of the response.

“From Camps in Bangladesh to hospitals in Europe, refugees are working as nurses, doctors, scientists, teachers and in other essential roles, protecting themselves and giving back to the communities that host them.

“On world Refugee Day, we thank refugees for their resourcefulness and determination to build their own lives and to improve the lives of others around them.

“Today, we stand in unity and solidarity with refugees and recognise our fundamental obligation to shelter those fleeing war and persecution.

“This action has helped in redefining refugees and migrants’ status, showing that everyone, irrespective of their status counts.

“Refugees and displaced persons are also prominent among those who are stepping up to make a difference on the frontline of the response.

“From Camps in Bangladesh to hospitals in Europe, refugees are working as nurses, doctors, scientists, teachers and in other essential roles, protecting themselves and giving back to the communities that host them.

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“Today, we stand in unity and solidarity with refugees and recognise our fundamental obligation to shelter those fleeing war and persecution.”

Similarly, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) notes that the refugees have shown their resourcefulness, as frontline volunteers in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the agency, so many countries have resorted to the help of migrant and refugee doctors to join health workers in the countries.

Sharing similar sentiments on why the refugees ought to be empowered for effective fight agains COVID-19, UNHCR’s High Commissioner Filippo Grandi says he draws inspiration from the resilience refugees have shown in overcoming their own crisis of displacement and dispossession.

Grandi said that in spite of their vulnerable state, they remained committed and determined to improve their lives and that of others.

“In the Lake Chad region, incessant and escalating attacks from insurgents and bandits continues to give rise to high level of displacement and Nigeria records over two million displacements in the north-eastern part of the country.

“In Nigeria, refugees and internally displace persons are also contributing to host communities and not just depending on relief assistance; they have been trained in various skills acquisition to make them self-reliant and contributing to host communities,’’ Grandi said.

Ernest Cho, a Cameroonian refugee who has taken refuge in Nigeria, said he was a practising journalist in his country before the conflicts forced him to flee to Nigeria.

Cho said that with assistance from the UNHCR in Nigeria, he had got the required permit to work, become self-reliant and contribute to Nigeria’s economy rather than just wait for relief assistance.

“With the experience I have as a journalist in my country, I do some public speaking, teach and host some little events here where I get paid.

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“No matter how little the income, I am proud to say that with the support of UNHCR, I can stand on my own,” Cho said.

Also, Ms Chansa Kapaya, UNHCR’s Representative in Nigeria, reiterates the call of the UNHCR as she called on governments in the Lake Chad region for inclusive policies to support and protect Persons of Concern.

Kpaya said “everyone can make a difference and everyone counts” when it comes to promoting inclusion, respect, and dignity for all including refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons.

She also appealed to governments in the region and well-meaning individuals to join the global movement of solidarity and action.

Kpaya said that the current COVID-19 pandemic had shown that everyone matters, including refugees and other persons of concerns, who had either been on the frontline and making positive contributions fighting the pandemic.

“In Nigeria, from the north to the south, we have witnessed refugees and other displaced population making a difference, making their actions count in various communities.

“In the urban areas, several refugees have moved from aid dependency to being entrepreneurs through support of the UNHCR, the National Commission for Refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons and other humanitarian organisations.

“The alumni of UNHCR’s higher education scholarship programme, DAFI (Albert Einstein German Academy Refugee Initiative) in Nigeria are also giving back as UN volunteers.

“In northeastern part of the country, through collaboration between UNHCR and the American University of Nigeria (AUN), internally displaced persons are converting wastes to useful products, such as handbags, shoes, mats, hand fans and key holders, among others.

“In the midst of the COVID-19 crises, cooperatives set up under the UNHCR protection nets in Gwoza and Bama local government areas are employing their tailoring skills for producing face masks for commercial purposes.

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“This is expected to encourage the use of face masks by the vulnerable populations to protect themselves from COVID-19.

“In Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers and Taraba, refugees are making a difference by teaching in schools either as employees or volunteer teachers.

“In the refugee settlements, the refugees and host communities have been trained on COVID-19 prevention, mitigation, safe water chain and community management process.

“They carry out routine awareness campaign on COVID-19 prevention and the hygiene improvement,’’ Kapaya said.

Hw also observed that the Nigerian government had pledged its continuous support and solidarity with displaced persons, in ensuring their protection, resettlement and durable solution.

Hajiya Sadiya Farouq, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster and Social Development, said “Protection of displaced persons is among the top priorities of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.’’

Farouq said that that, in other to make everyone count, most especially the vulnerable groups, all hands must be on deck in our drive to providing protection, assistance to refugees and the internally displaced persons.

She called on the international community to show commitment in the implementation of the Global Compact for Refugees, a document she explained had provided a veritable guide towards addressing the protection of refugees.

Also speaking, Ms Fatima Jagne, ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, said that commission is committed to addressing the root causes of conflicts which has resulted in the massive displacements and humanitarian crisis.

By Lizzy Okoji, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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