Refugees and other displaced people living in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria already were struggling to subsist before COVID-19 became a health and economic threat.
They fled violence in Syria, Iraq and several African countries, seeking safety where they thought they could stay safely for a while. With few resources, they work primarily as day laborers and live in the least expensive housing they can find.
In Lebanon, many refugees live in “buildings on top of buildings and very tight, cramped living conditions” where they are at risk of virus transmission because of the density, said Garry Mayhew, Mennonite Central Committee’s representative for Syria and Lebanon. Mayhew is from London, and his wife, Kate, also a representative, is from Minneapolis.
Refugees may not have funds to buy hygiene items like soap, especially since lockdowns prevent them from earning money through informal work. Many lack access to health care and COVID-19 testing.
In response to these needs, MCC’s partner organizations distributed 18,000 COVID-19 hygiene kits in Syria, 2,000 in Lebanon and 928 in Jordan. The partners identified people who were most in need.
Each family-size kit included items that were purchased in country, such as hand sanitizer, soap, masks and household cleaners that reduce the risk of contracting the disease. Information about how to prevent spreading the virus was also included.
“With these kits, I can teach my children to stay clean and stay safe to avoid getting the coronavirus,” said Zahrah Jabri, a Syrian refugee living in Amman.
To avoid transmitting COVID-19 through the distributions, partner staff used personal protective equipment, including gloves and masks, provided by MCC.
The largest hygiene kit distribution took place in war-torn Syria. The Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue, an MCC partner, distributed kits in April and May to internally displaced families in conflict areas, including Aleppo.
6.2 million displaced
Nearly a decade of war has left more than 6.2 million Syrians internally displaced throughout the country. They are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 due to the collapsing economy and lack of a functioning health-care system.
In Lebanon, another MCC partner, Popular Aid for Relief and Development, distributed kits to Syrian refugees living in 11 “gatherings,” unofficial camps in Beirut and Tyre. The gatherings lack access to government services, and refugees suffer 80 percent unemployment.
In Jordan, Collateral Repair Project, a refugee organization, distributed kits to refugees from Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, as well as displaced Syrians not living in government-supported camps.
They must figure out how to survive in crowded, poor areas of Amman in terrible conditions, said Alex Azar, MCC program officer in Jordan.
“Some will have one bedroom and a bathroom as a home for two families, if not three,” he said.
Especially vulnerable families, including those without a father and those who have a person living with a chronic illness, received a kit in April and July. In addition, 80 families determined to be severely in need were given $50 monthly food vouchers for four months to use in local grocery stores.
Azar said the economy is already starting to reopen. Meanwhile, he hopes the kits and vouchers will help sustain displaced people in need.
“We are trying to secure fewer things for them to worry about,” he said. “That list is already too long.”