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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi is seen during a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in a March 3, 2020, file photo.DENIS BALIBOUSE/Reuters

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says he is “deeply concerned” about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on refugees and communities that host them, prompting him to call for additional financial support and a co-ordinated international effort.

The pandemic has already had significant consequences for the UN’s refugee operations, Filippo Grandi said Tuesday in a report outlining the agency’s efforts. He said it was “sparing no effort” to help refugees, many of whom live in overcrowded camps or poor urban areas, without adequate access to soap and clean water.

“Our top priority in the COVID-19 crisis is to ensure that the people we serve are included in response plans and are properly informed, while we supplement governments’ preparedness and response efforts wherever needed,” he said.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said it is augmenting hygiene facilities, distributing soap and increasing access to water. It is supporting governments with infection prevention and health care, such as providing medical equipment. And its staff are distributing shelter and relief items, offering pandemic information, expanding cash assistance and working to ensure that the rights of people who have been forcibly displaced are respected, the report said.

“We will continue to expand our critical interventions on the ground. But to do this, we need timely and unearmarked financial support now, including to ongoing humanitarian operations. Co-ordinated international support is in our common interest and absolutely critical,” Mr. Grandi said.

Last week, the UNHCR appealed for US$255-million, as part of a wider appeal from the UN, to focus on countries that need support. It said that while the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 among refugees is low, more than 80 per cent of the world’s refugee population and almost all internally displaced people live in lower-income countries, many with weak health-care systems.

Training has begun for UNHCR staff in Bangladesh working in health facilities that serve about 850,000 Rohingya refugees living in densely populated camps. More than 2,000 refugee volunteers are working with community and religious leaders to teach infection prevention measures, the agency said.

In Greece, the agency has been boosting its support to local authorities to increase water and sanitation capacity and is working to create medical units and spaces for screening, isolation and quarantine. It is also contributing to communication efforts through helplines and interpretation services.

It said temperature screening is being conducted at the entrances to Zaatari and Azraq, two refugee camps in Jordan, adding that awareness campaigns are under way, access to electricity has been improved and supermarkets are operating with extended hours to help with social distancing.

In camps and settlements in Ethiopia and Uganda, hand washing and temperature screening facilities have been put in place, the agency said.

In Sudan, the UNHCR has delivered soap to more than 260,000 refugees, internally displaced people and members of the communities that host them. It said it is also running a “massive” awareness campaign in several languages.

The building of handwashing stations, the distribution of soap and cleaning products and another major awareness campaign are under way in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burkina Faso, the agency added.

In Brazil, the UNHCR is working with partners to establish an isolation area in Boa Vista to host suspected cases of COVID-19 among Venezuelan refugees, migrants and locals. It is also distributing hygiene kits to indigenous people in Belem and Santarem.

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