A family wearing handmade protective face masks stands next to their tent in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos on March 28, 2020.
Updated on April 1, 2020
As we all focus on the COVID-19 outbreak and the changes in our daily lives, the world’s refugees and asylum seekers still deserve our attention and support.
Because of instability, overcrowded living conditions, lack of access to clean water, and lack of access to healthcare, refugees are especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Yet even as countries are sealing borders and as travel restrictions grow, HIAS continues to find 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, how to access their rights to medical care, and how to remain safe. We are also finding ways to remotely deliver our services, including providing information, assessing refugees' critical needs, and providing one-on-one counseling.
Here in the United States, we will continue speaking out against any attempts to blame migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers for the spread of coronavirus. This is a long-standing xenophobic trope that has continually been proven wrong. We will also help fight any attempts to use the healthcare needs of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers as a way to target them and work to ensure that healthcare facilities remain as immigration enforcement-free zones.
No matter how long these conditions last, however, the staff at HIAS will be on the job, providing critical services to refugees and asylum seekers and advocating for the rights of all who seek safety from persecution. We will continue to update this page as the outbreak continues and we adjust our operations accordingly.
Members of HIAS' leadership team held a public briefing call on April 1 to discuss how HIAS is standing up for the health and safety of refugees amid the COVID-19 pandemic and how the public can get involved. You can listen to the entire call here.
This Passover, support for refugees and asylum seekers is more important than ever. You can download the HIAS Haggadah to include a deeper exploration of the global refugee crisis in your Seder this year. We'll also have more resources you can use during virtual Seders in the coming days.
Around the world, HIAS staff members are finding new and creative ways to deliver services. Those include:
- In the United States, HIAS’ legal programs are finding new ways to connect asylum seekers with the pro bono attorneys helping them.
- In Ecuador, HIAS is partnering with local supermarkets to help asylum seekers buy food, helping refugees on our hotline, and offering emergency rent payment, food and medicine to those most urgently in need.
- As Greece puts coronavirus response measures in place that effectively trap asylum seekers in overcrowded camps, HIAS is filing petitions against detention, advocating against dangerous living conditions, and providing assistance to newly arrived refugees.
- In Panama, HIAS teams are empowering refugees by sharing vital information through social media, providing phone- and Zoom-based mental health services, creating safety plans for survivors of domestic abuse, and offering emergency cash assistance to those who need it.
- HIAS Kenya has been able to continue to reach beneficiaries through phone calls, WhatsApp groups, and community workers. WhatsApp groups are being formed so that women, adolescent girls, and men’s groups can communicate and support one another.
- In Israel, HIAS is working hard to “unlock” some of the benefits currently only available to Israeli residents and citizens, such as unemployment benefits. Staff members also successfully pushed for asylum seekers to be able to remotely renew their residence permits, reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
In accordance with stay-at-home directives issued in New York and Maryland, all HIAS employees at our offices in Silver Spring and New York are working remotely.