Refugee crisis and COVID-19 epidemic

In Idlib Governatorate in North-West Syria, in the last three years, two internationally displaced person camps (IDP) increased respectively of 100% and 177% in size. Structure density appears to grow acutely by 2019 compared to previous years. These are the results of Signal Program on Human Security and Technology, a new satellite imagery analysis performed by the Harward Humanitarian Initiative together with Save the Children and World Vision. The Signal project used very high-resolution satellite imagery called Digital Globe, to analyze the expansion of IDP camps and the destruction of towns in Idlib Governorate in North-West Syria. With this method, it is possible to document the expansion of the camp, and the density of the shelters. As the reports state, however, many people, including children, do not have access to shelters and live in even worst condition.

According to the United Nations office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (UNOCHA), 60% of internationally displaced people are minors. In northwest Syria, since 1 December 2019 more than 948,000 people have been displaced. On March 15th 2020 the conflict enters in his tenth years. Signal detected massive destructions in buildings that once were home for millions of people, now forced to leave in precarious conditions in these camps. On Save the Children website, Sonia Khush, Syria Country Director for Save the Children, declare: "Half a million children are crammed in camps and shelters at the border with Turkey with no access to the basics of a decent life: a warm place to sleep, clean water, nutritious food, and education."On February 25th, ten schools and kindergartens were reported to have been bombed in Idlib, killing nine children and injuring dozens. An estimated 280,000 school-aged children have been severely impacted.

At present, 70.8 million people around the world have been forced from home, according to UNHCR. Among them are nearly 25.9 million refugees, and over half of them are minors. Most of these refugees are currently living in overcrowded refugee camps, with limited or absent health care assistance, and poor water and sanitation systems. These people are exposed to a huge risk of illness and epidemics, due to the poor condition they are living. With the spread of COVID-19 these people should be not forgotten once again. In overcrowded situations such as those of refugee camps in Idlib self-isolation, at present the unique solution to contain the spread of the virus, are impossible to target. 

UNOCHA has recently released a report "COVID-19: How to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement" focusing on the importance of taking into account socio-economic marginalization faced by minors, women, elderly, refugees, migrants and minorities. All these people might be at higher risk with the spread of COVID-19 epidemics as they have normally no access to early warning systems and adequate health service. The experience gained during previous epidemics illustrates that it is fundamental to communicate with women about health risks. Women are usually the primary caregivers of children and elderly, and they can pass down the information received, but since community engagement teams are usually dominated by men, women have no access to information on outbreaks and available services. According to the guidelines, we must take into account the difficulties faced by children to understand information on COVID-19, and this is a highly critical issue for unaccompanied and separated minors. If caregivers are infected, quarantined, or pass away, it could lead to protection and psychosocial issues for children.

Save the Children has launched a new campaign of fundraising from both international donors and the national governments. The aim is to strengthen investment in health service in underdeveloped Countries and to foster communications campaigns within refugee populations to stop new infections from occurring. Save the Children's Global Medical Director, Dr Zaeem Haq, declared: "Covid-19 is a global health crisis which requires a coordinated global response. It is in all of our interests to ensure we are doing everything to prevent further spread of the virus and this is especially significant in refugee and displacement camps where isolation and testing pose significant challenges. Children already bear the burden of many of the world's infectious diseases including pneumonia, malaria and cholera and families already struggle to get adequate health care".