COVID-19 Impact on Zoonotic Disease Risk Solutions in Displaced Populations

By: Dorien Braam
As the war in Syria drags on, humanitarian actors have shifted from emergency response towards longer term development aid, affecting the assistance available to people living outside formal refugee camps. The recent measures, that have been implemented to reduce the impact of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic have further restricted the availability of aid. Lockdowns and movement restrictions have severely disrupted the supply of medical and food items available to refugees in- and outside camps. Worldwide COVID-19 policy and health responses have so far mainly relied on uncontextualized ‘science-based’ risk assessments, which risk exacerbating local socio-economic and health inequalities.

Za’atari Refugee Camp: Life in the Desert

While the concept of the refugee camp has been criticized as a device to merely keep refugees alive, Za’atari’s organizations offer many programs to empower and educate residents—Katrine, a 16-year-old divorcee who advocates for girls to finish education before marriage; Miriam, a 19-year-old photojournalist-to-be who interviews others in the camp; and Abu Yaqub, a 50-year-old security guard who makes sure all thirteen of his children go to school

Syrian resilience is real, and for many right now, the only hope. These are the communities who can rebuild their country upon return or bring ingenuity to new places upon resettlement. In the meantime, organizations should acknowledge the semi-permanence of the “forever temporary” situation and continue their committed presence in residents’ lives. As long as Za’atari is dismissed as merely a refugee camp, all of its residents’ potential will be just that: potential.