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Global campaign boosts COVID-19 prevention among refugees

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By UNHCR Staff  |  18 April 2021

Thierry, 27, a refugee from the Central African Republic, rides his bicycle in Inke camp, Democratic Republic of the Congo, to promote good hygiene practices.  © UNHCR/Claris Neh Mokom Achu

JAMJANG, South Sudan – At a distribution centre in Pamir refugee camp in Jamjang, South Sudan, hundreds of bars of soap are stacked in neat rows on bright blue trestle tables. Dozens of refugees wearing masks form an orderly queue, trying their best to be mindful of the COVID-19 measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

Camp resident George David, a refugee from Sudan, collects 30 bars of soap for himself and his family. “The soap is very important to us to prevent disease,” he said.

Here and in other operations around the world, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has stepped up health, water, sanitation and hygiene services during the pandemic to protect people who have been forced to flee their homes.

Refugees and internally displaced people are at particular risk during COVID-19 because they often have limited access to water, sanitation systems and health facilities, with multi-generational families living side-by-side in crowded shelters, settlements and camps.

As part of its COVID-19 response, UNHCR, in partnership with Unilever, has delivered 30 million bars of soap, hand sanitizer and disinfectant to more than 50 countries worldwide, including developing countries, where 85 per cent of the world’s forcibly displaced people live.

Additional support for information campaigns in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan was made possible by the Hygiene & Behaviour Change Coalition, funded by Unilever and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, and has reached 20 million refugees, teaching them the importance of clean hands to stay healthy.

The coalition’s global outreach initiative has become the world’s largest hygiene campaign aimed at tackling COVID-19, reaching 1 billion people.

“Coronavirus is a killer disease.”

“There are many steps we are taking to prevent COVID-19,” UNHCR Associate WASH Officer in South Sudan, Ben Ngbamborigbe Wanga, said of the outreach efforts. “We have spread information through radio broadcasts, refugee leaders, and we also, during our monitoring, advise refugees to stay home and wash their hands.”

Refugees themselves are actively involved in COVID-19 prevention efforts, educating their communities about the virus and the vital role of hygiene and safety measures in preventing infection.

In North and South Ubangi provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNHCR has provided bicycles to a network of refugee hygiene promoters who ride around the camps refilling handwashing stations and promoting good hygiene practices among refugees.

“I go around disinfecting latrines. I also do door-to-door awareness raising on water and hygiene issues,” explained Thierry Angazika, 27, a refugee from Central African Republic living in DRC’s Inke camp. “With the bicycle provided by UNHCR, I ride through the camp and can refill three to five times a day the handwashing stations.”

“I am seeing now the community is changing.”

In South Sudan, Hana Kafi Tia is a Sudanese refugee and community outreach volunteer in Pamir Camp who promotes good hygiene practices among her community. 

“Coronavirus is a killer disease, and it really doesn’t have treatment. The only safe measures to protect ourselves from COVID-19 is to avoid shaking hands, wear face masks, avoid crowding, and we should stay one and a half metres from each other when we are in public places,” she said. 

Hana added that sharing information about COVID-19 throughout the camp is making a big difference in the behaviour she sees within the community.

“I am seeing now the community is changing – they are changing their hygiene, they are not crowding, they wash their hands frequently, and when one falls sick, they see doctors. I am proud of my work,” she said. 


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