Apr. 14, 2020

Churches gear up to assist refugees during the COVID-19 pandemic

Photo: Albin Hillert/LWF, 2019

14 April 2020

It’s tough living at home in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic watching those infected with the COVID-19 virus rise in numbers and the death toll climb. But think of the world’s refugees and people on the move.

ACT Alliance, the global alliance of more than 145 churches and related organizations and part of the World Council of Churches (WCC) family working together in over 120 countries, was so concerned about the plight of the vulnerable, it issued “A Call for Humanity and Stronger Global Governance.”

“Protecting yourself from #COVIDー19 means protecting everyone! Help those working on the #frontlines,” ACT tweeted on 8 April as those concerned swivelled their attention to areas such as the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where refugees and the displaced abound.

Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, ACT Alliance general secretary, said in his 7 April statement (https://actalliance.org/act-news/act-statement-a-call-for-humanity-and-stronger-global-governance/) , “It is with dismay that we see how much the COVID-19 has affected people and nations. This pandemic is one of the major humanitarian crises in modern history and has spread to conflict-affected and fragile countries.”

Many of the world’s conflicts have continued as the death toll from the novel coronavirus climbs. The call of UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres on 23 March for an immediate ceasefire to help tackle the pandemic has hardly been heeded.

De Faria said, “This pandemic increases the vulnerability of people already experiencing humanitarian crises, poverty, inequalities, and economic distress. Humanitarian needs will become more acute and will be more challenging to staff and to fund, as countries around the world focus on meeting their own COVID-19-related needs.”


** Economic war tactics
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He also expressed distress at seeing some governments using economic war tactics to control supply chains for goods that suddenly appear strategic, undermining a fair humanitarian response, especially in countries with less economic resources.

Such tactics were “in times when all governments and institutions should be ensuring full, safe, immediate and unrestricted access for humanitarian and medical personnel, including their equipment and supplies to the most affected areas,” he said.

“The implications for countries with weak health systems may be especially harsh and may disproportionally affect populations that are highly exposed or confined, including migrants, displaced persons, asylum-seekers, refugees, and those living in informal settlements,” said de Faria.

The Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches said that in many areas, its offices are closed, except the Gaza main offices in the area under the control of the Palestinian authority.

Those offices remain operational despite the 10 cases of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip.

“The situation is worrisome not only in the Gaza Strip where only 60 ventilators are available for a population of 2 million but also in the West Bank where 205 ventilators are available for a population of over 2.5 million.

“The Palestinian health system is under duress and is reaching a critical point. This is the reason behind the strict closures imposed this time by Palestinian police and law enforcement agencies of the Palestinian Authority,” said the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees.

It said the major problem confronting the Palestinians now is the returning workers from Israel, with some of them carrying the virus.


** Insufficient tests
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“There are not enough tests to go around,” said the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees.

Dr Souraya Bechealany, secretary general of the Middle East Council of Churches, spoke for the WCC and Regional Ecumenical Organizations release of a historic joint pastoral statement affirming the urgency of standing together to protect life amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the moment when the COVID-19 crisis defies and questions the entirety of humanity, it is important for churches to raise their voices loud and clear together in the body of Christ to witness our faith and our hope in the risen Jesus Christ and dare the prophetic word we are entrusted with,” she said on 8 April (https://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/live-this-time-in-strong-spiritual-solidarity) .