Every year on World Refugee Day, June 20, we recognize the struggles and strength of the millions of refugees around the world. This year we also show how their strength can help others, as the world struggles through a pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of nearly every person on the planet, but it poses particularly acute dangers to refugees, asylum seekers, and other displaced persons.
Instability, overcrowded living conditions, lack of access to clean water, and lack of access to healthcare leave refugees especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Many refugees who had jobs have lost them because of travel and economic restrictions, leaving them unable to afford food, rent, and other necessities. And the problems that existed before the pandemic, from lack of education access to the threat of domestic violence, have only become more severe.
Since early 2020, HIAS has stepped up to help. Despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic, we have found ways to reach displaced populations in all of the 16 countries where we operate. We are equipping refugee communities with critical information about the virus and finding ways to remotely deliver our services, including providing information, assessing refugees' crucial needs, and providing one-on-one counseling. We are also advocating for the rights of refugees and hosting a wide range of online events to educate people on refugee issues.
Here are some of the way HIAS is meeting the COVID-19 challenge:
Providing remote services
Before the pandemic, HIAS delivered most of its critical services face to face. The pandemic has made those in-person contacts impossible. Nevertheless, our offices around the world have turned to mobile devices, chat apps, and other tools to deliver life-saving help to our clients. Clients have been able to continue consulting with HIAS lawyers about their cases, attending mental-health counseling or support groups, and using other services.
Increasing economic aid
With scores of refugees now lacking the money for food, rent, and other basic needs, HIAS has stepped up our cash-based assistance programs in many countries, including some where we did not previously offer such aid. We have also partnered with local businesses and organizations to give our clients contactless cash and payment options to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Advocating for refugees
HIAS has worked to make sure refugees and asylum seekers are not excluded from COVID-19 relief measures, calling on Congress to cover such communities in new laws and support programs. We have repeatedly called on the Trump administration to roll back its attacks on the immigration system, particularly the policies that have stranded many asylum seekers in Mexico for spurious health reasons. As the Biden administration prepares to take office, HIAS is working with the Biden transition team to ensure displaced persons are once again afforded their rights and treated humanely by the U.S. government.
Keeping our supporters informed
HIAS is offering calls and webinars with our experts and partners, refugee-related resources for book and film clubs, and other ways to stay engaged on refugee issues during the pandemic. Check out our HIAS@Home page to see the full list.