In early March, Rwanda’s Ministry of Health rolled out its countrywide COVID-19 vaccination campaign, beginning with high-risk groups such as health workers, teachers and older people. More than 230,000 people have so far received their first injection.

The country, which hosts nearly 138,000 refugees, is one of the first in Africa to include refugees in its vaccination rollout.

“I feel so privileged,” said Samira, one of more than 300 refugees to receive the first dose of the vaccine at the Emergency Transit Mechanism Centre in Gashora.

Samira arrived at the centre two months ago, one of hundreds of refugees that UNHCR has helped leave Libya, where weak rule of law and ongoing conflict have placed refugees in danger from human traffickers, smugglers and militia.

“It means a lot to me to be able to be free like this in Rwanda,” Samira said.

UNHCR has been advocating for the equitable inclusion of refugees, internally displaced and stateless populations through the COVAX Facility, a global initiative that brings together governments and manufacturers to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines eventually reach those in greatest need.

In January this year, UNHCR supported the transportation of 43 elderly refugees from Za’atari Camp in Jordan to the nearby Department of Chest Infection Health Clinic in Mafraq to receive vaccinations. They were among the first refugees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine free of charge.

“As UNHCR, we advocated with the Ministry of Health to open this centre and serve the refugees who wanted to be vaccinated, especially the elderly,” said UNHCR Public Health Officer Iyad Shtayiat.

A medical worker administers a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at the Irbid Vaccination Clinic in Jordan. @UNHCR/Jose Cendon 

“The vaccine is the first stop to end this pandemic.”

 

 

UNHCR and partner staff distribute relief items, including handsoap, and hold awareness sessions on the prevention of COVID-19 for internally displaced Sudanese families in West Darfur. @UNHCR/Ana Biurrun Ruiz

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, refugees have been generously included in the Government of Jordan’s national response plan, able to access health care and medical treatment on par with Jordanian citizens.

“Once again Jordan has shown exemplary leadership and solidarity in hosting refugees. The country has included refugees in every aspect of the public health response to the pandemic, including the national vaccination campaign, proving how it should be done if we are to keep everyone safe,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

Iraqi refugee Raia hopes life will be more relaxed now that she has received a COVID-19 vaccination.

Raia and her husband Ziad – a trained doctor – were among the first UNHCR-registered refugees in the world to be vaccinated against the virus.

Originally from Baghdad, Raia and Ziad fled the Iraq conflict in 2006 and sought safety in Jordan. In January, they both received the Sinopharm vaccine developed in China after being prioritised due to Ziad’s chronic diseases which placed him in the high-risk category.

“We just want life to be back to normal,” Raia said after receiving the vaccination.

“The vaccine is the right way of doing this.”

Close cooperation between UNHCR and the Government of Jordan and the Ministry of Health, as well as the strong adherence of refugees to prevention measures, has been key in limiting the spread of the virus among these vulnerable populations.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, UNHCR has rushed urgent supplies and core relief items to millions of refugees and displaced people, including water, medical care and hygiene materials.

As of January 2021, UNHCR has procured more than 2,000 oxygen concentrators, 41.2 million masks, 2.8 million gowns, 195 ventilators and delivered 380 metric tons of personal protective equipment and medical items.

Meanwhile, more than 9.3 million refugees and internally displaced persons accessed protection services, including gender-based violence and child protection services, and 3.9 million refugees accessed essential health services.

As vaccinations roll-out across the globe, UNHCR is continuously advocating at country, regional and global levels for refugees and other people to be included in international strategies.

To date, 51 out of the 90 countries currently developing national COVID-19 vaccination strategies have included refugees in their vaccination plans.

“We are engaged in discussions and decision-making processes with COVAX, the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries,” said Mike Woodman, a UNHCR senior public health officer.

“We are working with international partners to ensure that ‘leaving no one behind’ and ‘equitable access to vaccines’ are not just phrases, but practice.”

“There is a huge deficit of protective masks in the country, and pharmacies in our village also don’t have them. So we started to sew the masks ourselves” ..Maryna, a community worker in Ukraine, makes a face mask on a sewing machine donated by UNHCR. @UNHCR/ Artem Hetman

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