With the Coronavirus spreading around the world, it is imperative that the humanitarian community immediately move to prepare the refugee and internally displaced communities to minimize the impact of this disruptive and deadly disease. These groups of people will be amongst the most vulnerable because of their living conditions, lack of adequate nutrition and health services, and the traumatic life experiences that drove them from their homes. 

These days of global uncertainty, with our sense of security and normalcy turned upside down, can serve as an empathetic window into what refugees and the internally displaced experience every day and almost every moment of their lives. This crisis is also an opportunity to utilize the leadership, knowledge, and strengths that refugees possess. The response to the crises should be co-created with the refugee communities if it is to be effective and respectful. They should lead in the response. 

From my conversations with iACT’s friends in camps around the world, refugees are ready to take on the challenge. But they are also concerned, and are not receiving enough factual information. Further complicating the situation is the amount of misleading posts they are seeing on social media. 

The humanitarian community needs to be proactive in the creation of an information and action strategy, and this should have begun more than a month ago once it was clear that a pandemic was imminent. 

We have been communicating with refugees connected to iACT programs around the world. Fortunately, both our Little Ripples preschool program and the Refugees United Soccer Academy have a strong health and hygiene component in their curricula that mirrors what experts now suggest as the most important practices to minimize the spread of COVID-19. The teachers and coaches talk daily with thousands of children about washing hands, sneezing and coughing into bent elbows, and using latrines. 

We have informed all iACT refugee leaders and program staff to do a more thorough review of the health and hygiene curriculum and to reinforce it with even more intention. 

Here are some of their responses to these suggestions:

“We will undoubtedly share and translate this message with the team here and community in general, dear Katie Jay. Thank you for the precautions!” — Mandy

“Thank you KTJ, we have to share this message effectively with our community and staff. Thanks for your information!” — Anaclet

Hello Katie-Jay,

“Thank you for your message, really iACT is with us. We will share it with staff and we can do our best to create awareness with the community. The good thing is that even the local people have been getting some information from their leaders about Covid-19. 

We will keep in touch. Thank you.” — Oumda

As the virus is now getting closer to camps, more than basic health and hygiene strategies are needed. The advice of top experts in the field must be enlisted to create the most effective and proactive response possible. Everything must be done so that the virus does not spread through the camps. If cases do start to be confirmed in refugee communities, there must be a coordinated response plan already in place — taking into consideration the recommendations from the World Health Organization, but then making those recommendations actionable and relevant to each refugee setting. 

What can you, the reader, do today? 

  • Please share this post on social media
  • Send a message of support to refugee communities around the world: info@iact.ngo
  • If you can, please donate to support our refugee-led programs, which continue to operate during the difficult times: donate here

Sadly, a refugee might have life experiences that include loss, trauma, instability, and recovery. Those same life experiences, in addition to all the skills and knowledge they possessed before becoming displaced, can also make them the perfect partners and leaders in tackling the current global crisis. Let’s sit with them, walk with them, learn from them, and work next to them now and into the future. 

Gabriel Stauring

Chief of Vision and Strategy

iACT