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Jordan steps up precautionary measures in Syrian refugee camps in response to COVID-19 outbreak

Jordan's strict precautionary measures to limit exposure to the novel Coronavirus extend to Syrian refugee camps

2 April 2020

AMMAN — Since March 18, Jordanian authorities have imposed what is considered “one of the world’s strictest lockdowns,” to limit exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Jordan has shut all borders and banned incoming and outgoing flights, halted businesses, and closed gathering areas such as mosques, shops, restaurants, and schools. The Jordanian government placed the country under a total curfew, banning all movement, before easing the curfew to allow essential trips between 10 a.m and 6 p.m.

According to UNHCR spokesperson Mohammad Hawari, these precautionary measures extend to the Syrian refugee camps in the Kingdom, which host around 124,000 of the 656,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR in Jordan. 

Since the global pandemic sparked by a coronavirus began, aid organizations in Jordan have expressed concern that this could put thousands of vulnerable lives at risk, prompting the Ministry of Interior to act. 

“We cannot take the risk to expose highly concentrated camps to the contamination of the virus,” Hawari told Syria Direct

In effect, only essential UN and NGO staff who have been cleared by the government can enter the camps. A curfew was enforced to limit movement inside the camps and stop refugees from exiting as well. These precautions put refugees working outside the refugee camp in a tough bind. Because they work in the informal economy and depend on daily labor for their livelihoods, they must rely on coupons handed out by UNHCR, Ashraf al-Issa, a Zaatari camp resident and UNICEF employee told Syria Direct. 

In Zaatari camp, which hosts about 76,000 refugees, most shops have been closed except for bakeries and markets, says Lana al-Hassan (pseudonym), a Zaatari camp resident. People can only leave their homes between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., just like in urban areas, but are not able to hold gatherings and make home visits anymore. 

To raise awareness and keep camp residents informed, UNHCR hands out leaflets about the virus, al-Hassan said. Government-approved suppliers keep the market shelves stocked with necessary home goods and food items. Clinics and markets are open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., while bakeries open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. To prevent overcrowding in shopping areas, the camp is sectioned and one family member from each household is given a two-hour window to shop for necessities. 

“My father buys what we need during the times we can go out,” al-Hassan told Syria Direct. “In my opinion, these procedures are needed to protect everyone. Staying home is stodgy and there are no visits with relatives and friends. I have sisters who are married who I can’t see anymore. But at the same time, if staying at home means protecting everyone’s health, that is more important.” 

“There are health precautions taken before entering the shops,” al-Issa said. “Like washing hands and wearing masks and gloves.”

To ensure residents are following the precautions, security patrols monitor the camp and make sure no one violates curfew, al-Issa added: “The law is applied to curfew violators just like any other person outside the camp. Some offenders are even imprisoned.” 

In addition to the markets and bakeries, hospitals and clinics are fully operational and as there have been no reported coronavirus symptoms in the camps yet, these medical facilities have only been treating non-coronavirus related health issues. Refugees can walk into the medical facilities between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. for medical attention and outside that timeframe, hospitals are open to treat emergency cases.

“We were instructed to go to the health centers present here when feeling any symptom of the coronavirus,” al-Issa said. “Or to contact the Civil Defense. People are largely committed to the precautions, and they have been committed from the first day.”

UNHCR is advocating for refugees to be included within national health preparedness plans, Hawari said. “The Ministry of Health has been very receptive and supportive. If a refugee, for example, was to show symptoms of COVID-19 then they would be referred to the government hospitals,” he said. 

“UNHCR Jordan continues to work with the Ministry of Health and Government of Jordan to implement Corona precaution measures across the country and raise awareness of how to prevent the spread of the disease. The measures in place for Jordanians are the same for refugees living both inside and outside refugee camps.”

This article reflects minor changes made on 4/4/2020, at 4:50 p.m.

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