Many countries in the MENA region have entered a third wave of COVID-19 infections, with Algeria, Iraq, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia recording the highest number of daily cases in July since the start of the pandemic. Some countries reinstated COVID-19 related movement restrictions, while most scaled up vaccinations, including for people of concern to UNHCR. Libya became the latest country to begin vaccinating eligible refugees and asylum-seekers upon presentation of a UNHCR certificate, with the first refugees receiving their vaccination shot on 24 July.
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the safety and wellbeing of forcibly displaced populations, particularly on displaced women and children who, even prior to the pandemic, were at greater risk of gender-based violence (GBV) and child marriage. In July, UNHCR released a data visualisation entitled COVID deepens threats for displaced women and children, which highlights how COVID-19 intensified the risks of GBV and family separation, and disrupted childhoods. The socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 have heightened tensions in households, while containment measures have created additional barriers to reporting abuse and seeking help. Child marriage and school closures risk long-term damage to displaced children’s future prospects, while movement restrictions, lockdowns and border closures limited the possibilities for refugee parents and children to reunite with each other in countries of asylum.
Despite COVID-19 related challenges and funding shortfalls, UNHCR continued providing services for displaced women and children at risk, adapting them as needed. For example in Lebanon, while urgent and high-risk incidents of GBV continued to receive in-person support and access to services, UNHCR also provided cash assistance, remote individual GBV cases management and psychosocial counselling over the phone to women and girls. In Jordan, UNHCR and partners have strengthened access for urban refugee women to GBV services through pharmacies.