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Risk Communication and Community Engagement: Positive Practices from Europe during COVID

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In the context of the COVID pandemic, information can be life-saving and is crucial to ensure equal and non-discriminatory access to health and other basic services. Refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced (IDPs) and stateless persons should have access to clear, factual and updated information to be able to protect themselves, their families and the communities in which they live.
In Europe, one of UNHCR’s operational priorities in response to the pandemic is therefore to support public health efforts by ensuring that all persons of concern to the Agency have access to information in languages, formats, and media that are contextually appropriate and accessible to all groups within the different communities.
Moreover, two-way communication is essential to enable persons of concern to share their feedback, ideas, and proposed solutions to be part of the COVID response. In Europe, as in other parts of the world, refugees and other persons of concern have mobilized in different ways to support the response. In Europe, refugee networks have been essential in the development and dissemination of prevention and hygiene messages. Volunteers are supporting outreach to the most vulnerable and are filling gaps in service provision created by movement restrictions and office closures, including through peer-to-peer support, developing online activities and the distribution of material support. An increasing number of refugees with medical profiles are engaged in the medical response, while others are involved in the production of masks and other essentials. UNHCR’s continued engagement with communities allows for its activities to complement and reinforce such initiatives.
UNHCR’s continuous dialogue with communities during the COVID response in Europe has also facilitated monitoring and analysis of the dynamic and rapidly changing situation in each country and evolving protection risks facing persons of concern with a view to develop targeted operational responses and advocacy approaches. While the issues raised by persons of concern vary depending on their specific situation and across operations, many of their questions relate to ongoing government restrictions and access to services, including health services, as well as changes in asylum procedures and procedures to obtain or renew documentation. Across the continent, persons of concern are also increasingly raising concerns about the loss of livelihoods – often in the informal sector that does not provide safety nets - and other socio-economic difficulties caused by public health measures to combat the pandemic.
Many government authorities, UNHCR offices and partners, as well as communities themselves, have developed new and innovative communication approaches as part of the COVID response.
These positive practices, if maintained and adapted as needed, can contribute to enhanced community engagement across Europe also after the public health emergency has subsided.
This paper is an initial compilation of the promising practices on risk communication and community engagement that have developed in Europe during the COVID pandemic, in complementarity to the UNHCR’s Practical Recommendations and Good Practice to Address Protection Concerns in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic.It seeks to document and share such practices, but also to inspire new initiatives, foster exchange, and further develop a community of practice within the region.