As of last year, there were almost 80 million “forcibly displaced people worldwide.” This figure includes refugees, asylum-seekers and others. As refugee communities are in crucial need of proper medical aid to withstand the COVID-19 pandemic, global powers are devising plans to help them. During the early stages of worldwide lockdown, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) proposed a $33 million pandemic-response plan for improving refugee settlements. Objectives include increasing health service availability, spreading reliable and medical-oriented information throughout refugee communities and implementing efficient surveillance systems.
Although these efforts were a step in the right direction, they are not enough to assist every displaced refugee in the world. Groups like the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO) are certainly championing refugees’ needs. However, it does not take a global superpower to make a positive impact on refugee communities; one website has helped refugees during the pandemic through access to information.
Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Refugees
COVID-19 has impacted refugees and other forcibly displaced people in three major ways:
- Health: Constantly sanitizing, maintaining social distance and obtaining medical information are luxuries that many refugees do not have access to. As such, a refugee’s health is in constant jeopardy.
- Income: Refugees working in informal jobs are likely to have been laid off due to the pandemic, and losing work means losing the only financial safety net for a refugee.
- Protection: Hostile xenophobic and racist sentiments have been directed at asylum-seekers during the pandemic, which makes those seeking refuge in foreign countries targets for violence.
While these three obstacles are preventing many refugees from securing safety, they can be solved with one essential tool—information. Reliable information regarding health, income and protection can help many refugees.
Signpost as Virtual Back-up
Signpost is a non-governmental organization (NGO) and a virtual project that utilizes digital platforms to spread critical information throughout vulnerable communities. The organization has made a large impression since its founding in 2015. It has positively impacted almost two million people. Signpost has effectively helped and communicated with people across eight different countries, which demands fluency in several languages. Accurately conveying information regarding public health services and other needs to refugees using their native tongue has saved thousands of lives.
Everywhere, refugees are struggling to find trustworthy information about COVID-19. In response, Signpost has been reaching out and providing valuable, potentially life-saving, information to refugees. In particular, Signpost has supported the most vulnerable communities in countries like Greece, Italy, El Salvador and Honduras.
- Signpost in Greece: Signpost has developed an app that has numerous services listed for refugee use such as medical services, transportation and housing. Also, the organization is scheduled to put out a website for current COVID-19 information throughout the country.
- Signpost in Italy: The organization has given asylum-seekers information about essential services through Facebook, an established panel where users could ask questions and share key information regarding COVID-19. In Italy, Signpost focused specifically on informing refugees about Italy’s healthcare services and policies.
- Signpost in El Salvador and Honduras: Signpost developed CuentaNos. It is a virtual platform that not only provides vulnerable people with information about housing or protective services, but also about COVID-19 and locations for medical assistance. Signpost also bundled its online resources efficiently to allow refugees accessibility through WhatsApp.
Everyone has been affected by the pandemic, but asylum-seekers and refugee communities are especially disadvantaged since they are displaced from their home country. Signpost, a website, has helped refugees by providing access to important information about dealing with COVID-19. Although Signpost is just one example, technology-based organizations are mobilizing to provide some type of digital support for refugees. Whether help comes via the Internet or in-person, any outstretched hand toward refugees anywhere is a glimmering sign of hope for a better future.
– Maxwell Karibian