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Refugee Week 2020: Supporting refugee communities through coronavirus

In the refugee camps of Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, your support is helping keep essential health services running, and providing isolation beds for triaging and treating patients showing coronavirus symptoms. (Image - Medair.)

Since its origins over 80 years ago, helping young Jewish boys forced to flee annexed Austria during the 1930s, All We Can has been committed to supporting refugees. For the past few years, All We Can has been working in both Syrian Refugee Camps in Jordan and the Rohingya Refugee Camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, despite the challenges presented, our work with refugees has not stopped – rather, it has adapted. Our partners in both countries are finding new ways of working to help protect and support the refugee communities we serve.

All We Can has supported a number of different initiatives for Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar prior to coronavirus. Through the provision of safe spaces for women, we have helped provide a vital place for Rohingya refugee women to come together, receive support and counselling, and heal from the trauma they have witnessed fleeing Myanmar. We have also helped provide quality education through essential literacy, numeracy and life skills to Rohingya refugee children, whose education had been interrupted.

In May 2020, the World Health Organisation confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the refugee camps, raising fears of rapid spread of the virus through the camps. This led to all non-essential work being paused. Due to a ban put in place by the government in September 2019, there is a lack of internet in the camps, which has created additional challenges with regards to accurately communicating information about coronavirus. All We Can has supported community messaging about coronavirus across in the Kutupalong camp, focusing on the handwashing practices and importance of social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. Through our humanitarian aid partner, as part of a wider health sector initiative, we have supported the establishment of temporary isolation centres, across five sites in the camp where 1,000 isolation beds have been set up, for the isolation and treatment of COVID-19 positive patients.  Our partner has also carried out coronavirus training for healthcare staff and volunteers, focusing on identifying the symptoms, prevention and controlling the spread of the virus.

‘What has been really uplifting and inspiring for our staff is to know that people around the world really care about what is happening here and are focused on this as well as the difficulties that they are facing in their own community’ shared Carl Adams, the Country Representative of our Humanitarian Aid partner.

Before the pandemic in Za’atari Refugee Camp, we were supporting Syrian refugees by helping provide them with opportunities to learn new livelihood skills, such as sewing classes for men and women, beauty/barber classes for women, and incentive based volunteering opportunities. We were also helping provide valuable opportunities for children to learn, grow, and heal from the trauma they witnessed when fleeing their homes in Syria, through the provision of psychosocial support, education and relaxation opportunities such as Zumba classes, English classes for youth and adults, and activities for children aged 3-5 to include games and puppet storytelling.

In March, the Jordanian government implemented a strict curfew. The curfew meant our partner was not able to access the camp, as only health organisations were permitted to enter. All We Can’s partner in Jordan, who were mainly used to face-to-face community work have been adapting to new ways of operating. The sewing class is now being taught through Whatsapp, allowing the teachers to communicate with those taking part regularly, providing feedback and allowing the sharing of images. Parents have also received support online to provide educational activities for their children. These programmes have been adapted to the best degree possible, with considerable positive feedback received from all beneficiaries – however, there are still challenges in moving to online support as the camps have poor signal, and not everyone can access smartphones.

Recently, the lockdown in Jordan has started to lift – but there are still strict restrictions in place for the Za’atari Refugee camp. There is only one distribution of hygiene items allowed per month, whilst food distributions have been taking place on a daily basis. In the next distribution, our partner is preparing to assist in providing hygiene kits (containing 2 soap bars, bleach, sanitiser and laundry soap) to approximately 15,000 households. As the situation progresses, we are working together to better understand the needs of the refugees we are supporting, so that we can continue to provide long-term sustainable and relevant support.

Your generosity, through the Emergency Coronavirus Appeal, is helping to support vulnerable communities across the globe. Please help us continue to reach those most in need during this difficult time – give now.

We have put together a worship resource that you can use for your online services or as a devotional in your own houses and households during Refugee Week – download here.

About the Author Roxanne Bainbridge

Roxanne Bainbridge is working for All We Can as its Communications Officer as part of a year-long internship with the Methodist Church. Having studied a Master's degree in Education and Community Practice, she is passionate about empowering and educating communities to stand together against inequality and injustice. Roxanne grew up in North Wales and splits her time between Cardiff and London, as she loves and misses the Welsh spirit.

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