At a time when the majority of the countries of the world are taking preventive and protective measures for their citizens – including increasing response capacities – to deal with the new outbreak of the Covid-19 virus (also known as the Corona pandemic), Palestinian refugees, in all their locations, remain marginalized, less protected and have reduced capacities to combat this pandemic. The lack of interventions and/or their limitations by the responsible parties has increased the suffering of the refugees, especially in the camps of Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Palestinian refugees secondarily displaced from Syria, and warns of grave health risks.
Palestinian refugees are increasingly dependent on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in light of the Corona pandemic. Although UNRWA has taken some initial preventive measures, such as issuing an awareness and guidance guide, stopping the educational process in its schools, coordinating and mediating between refugees and health ministries in the host countries, these measures do not meet the minimum requirements needed to provide protection and health care to Palestinian refugees in the face of the virus outbreaks inside the camps. The lack of aid and relief interventions in light of the continuing situation of domestic quarantine as an urgent necessity to prevent the spread of the virus requires immediate and serious treatment within a well-studied plan for socio-economic and psychological intervention, and not just temporary and short-term interventions.
Regardless of the fact that UNRWA's budget suffers from a chronic shortage before the emergence of the Corona crisis due to the ongoing Israeli-American campaign that seeks to defund the agency (among other things), this does not absolve UNRWA of its responsibilities. Rather, the Agency must act quickly to address and remedy the risks presented by the pandemic. The need to provide medical equipment, decent isolation facilities, equipment for examination and sterilization, medicines, hospitals and/or qualified clinics and services and relief aid requires cooperation with countries and specialized international agencies, especially the World Health Organization, to secure a special budget to address the Corona crisis and its repercussions for refugees.
In this context, the Agency has launched an urgent appeal to raise 14 million USD to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. UNRWA launched an urgent appeal to meet its immediate priorities and financial requirements for health and other pandemic-related services in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. These priorities emerge in three main points: strengthening personal hygiene, hygiene procedures and personal protection equipment in health centers; health care needs of at-risk populations and increased hospitalization expenses; a self-learning and hygiene program for hands, and cleaning practices in UNRWA schools. There is no doubt that these measures are necessary. However, upon further examination, these priorities are essentially administrative and limited to a short-term response. They do not equate to service provision, nor meet the health care requirements, nor the urgent needs of the refugees to cope with the pandemic. This affirms the absence of a clear and systematic plan to address the spread of the Corona virus among refugee communities or to deal with its economic and social consequences. Despite the importance of coordination between UNRWA and the host countries and specifically their ministries of health, the role of UNRWA should not be limited to this process. Particularly since these countries suffer from overcrowding in their hospitals, the scarcity of their medical capabilities, and providing priority treatment and services for their citizens and not for refugees within their borders.
Palestinian refugees already suffer from a lack of protection far below the prescribed international standards. Further, considerations must be made that take into account UNRWA’s chronic financial crisis, that the Palestinian refugee camps are among the most densely populated and crowded, and that the majority of their inhabitants are already suffering from a serious economic, inadequate living conditions and humanitarian crisis. As such, the response to the outbreak of the epidemic among refugees calls for systematic and deliberate interventions for which UNRWA, its host countries, and international bodies and countries individually and collectively bear responsibility.
Accordingly, the Global Palestinian Refugee and IDP Network (GPRN):
- Demand that UNRWA fulfil its responsibility to provide all necessary medical and therapeutic equipment and supplies, and to prepare an emergency plan to deal with the economic, inadequate living conditions and lack of humanitarian needs consequences of the outbreak of the pandemic, the state of quarantine, and the interruption of income sources for refugees, especially in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
- Call on UNRWA to establish and equip qualified field clinics for examination and suitable quarantine facilities; and to deal with progressed Corona cases in Palestinian refugee camps, especially in Lebanon.
- Call on the World Health Organization to allocate a special budget for intervention in the camps in cooperation and coordination with UNRWA and the host countries, especially those related to the health sector.
- Call on the countries hosting refugees, especially Lebanon, to include the camps in health care plans and aid packages without discrimination or prejudice.
- Call on the United Nations to increase its financial contribution to UNRWA's budget to enable the latter to fulfill its responsibilities.
- Call upon all States to provide urgent financial assistance to UNRWA to cover its budget deficit and enable it to meet the requirements of facing the Corona pandemic.
- Call on the Palestinian National Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization to allocate a sufficient percentage of the Waqft Ezz Fund (Stand for Dignity Fund) to provide urgent aid to our people in Lebanon.
- Call on the private individuals and the business sector, especially those that are Palestinian, to cooperate with UNRWA, refugee host countries, and the relevant public institutions to provide in-kind and financial contributions to the camps of Lebanon, and the Palestinian refugees from Syria.