Dec 11, 2020

Update - Help Families Fleeing Crisis Rebuild

Hygiene training and demonstration in Afghanistan
Hygiene training and demonstration in Afghanistan

As the world struggles to deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the needs of refugee and displaced populations must not be neglected or forgotten. COVID-19 has overwhelmed health systems around the globe and threatens greater devastation as it spreads to fragile and crisis-affected countries. The pandemic is a global threat requiring a global response, but the International Rescue Committee (IRC) understands that the steps to contain it need to be designed locally to mitigate suffering globally.

A one-size-fits-all model does not work in the global pandemic response. This is especially true in humanitarian settings, which face a “double emergency”: the direct health impact from COVID-19 and its secondary devastation to fragile economic, security and political environments.

In humanitarian contexts, living conditions in developing countries make social distancing nearly impossible. Most people cannot work from home, and governments are unable to provide sufficient relief packages or social safety nets. International and domestic restrictions have slowed the transportation of COVID-19 equipment, halted vaccination campaigns, disrupted supply chains of treatment for malnourished children, and prevented medical staff from being deployed in countries with weaker health systems

Many families in crisis areas are living in crowded camps and finding social distancing impossible. The IRC is working inform communities on how to stay safe, where to get support for basic needs, and how to stop the spread of misinformation. For instance, in Jordan, the IRC provided COVID awareness sessions to nearly 2,282 community members and sent nearly 80,000 outreach messages to patients and clients.

Meet Rana and her family

Rana* is one of more than 650,000 registered refugees in Jordan who are trying to recover and rebuild their lives. Some 80% of them are living outside of camps. With its growing national population and high number of refugees, Jordan struggles to ensure that everyone can access quality health care. Limited finances make it difficult for Syrian refugees to access essential health services.

Together with her mother, father, two younger sisters and brother, 24-year old Rana, came to Jordan eight years ago. “We left Dara’a when things started to get really ugly. There was nowhere safe to go,” she says. The family sold their belongings to pay for the trip and fled to Jordan. After a month in a tent in Zaatari refugee camp, the family moved to Ramtha, a town some five kilometers from the Syrian border. “After almost a year things got easier and we got used to the situation here in Jordan especially because we were feeling safer and more secure, and were no longer thinking about the possibilities of death and arrest,” says Rana, who was newly married when she first arrived.

In 2018, Rana heard about the IRC health clinic in Ramtha and registered herself. “I started going to the clinic to take thyroid medication and whenever I’m sick.

”After five years of marriage, Rana became pregnant, “I was so happy when I found out about the pregnancy, words can’t express my feelings. I was in shock and did not believe it at first especially because doctors gave us no hope for pregnancy earlier, but I can only say I was very happy, excited and thankful,” she says.

The little money that her family had was not enough to cover the cost of the delivery. Rana was worried because this pregnancy came five years after getting married. She registered for the IRC’s reproductive health and maternity consultations and started going for her check-ups. That’s when she learned that she was pregnant with twins. “I started getting afraid not because of the twins but because of the costs that come with them, especially as neither I nor my husband are working and we have rent to pay and food to cover along with everything else,” says Rana.

In March of this year, as COVID-19 cases spiked around the world and Jordan put in place strict lockdown measures, Rana was in her ninth month. Through the final weeks, she managed to speak with the IRC health team and secure a referral to a hospital where she gave birth to two beautiful baby boys, Ahmad* and Hasan*. The twins had to be placed in a neonatal intensive care unit, which was covered with support from the IRC.

The IRC helps families like Rana’s in more than 40 countries around the world to respond to the challenges caused by displacement amidst the pandemic.

*Names changed and identities hidden for protection reasons.

IRC midwife conducts client checkup in Bangladesh
IRC midwife conducts client checkup in Bangladesh


Dec 11, 2020

Update - Help Refugees at Risk in the U.S.

Reuniting with family after 13 years of separation
Reuniting with family after 13 years of separation

The legacy of the Trump Administration includes a dizzying number of policies targeting people seeking safety in the United States. The administration has turned away refugees, sent asylum seekers into danger, and diminished America’s global standing as a place of refuge for those seeking safety.

President-elect Joe Biden has promised to be different. As a candidate and again after his victory, he committed to raising the refugee resettlement target to 125,000. He also said he would reunite families and reverse policies that have been devastating for asylum seekers.

But what will it take to restore America's legacy of welcome and global leadership, particularly during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic? 

A victory for immigrant youth—but there’s still work to do

On Friday, December 4, a federal judge ordered the Trump Administration to fully reinstate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program that protects undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. The program, which the administration has been trying to shut down since 2017, will have to accept new applicants, and current DACA recipients will secure the right to work for two years, rather than one.

As many as 300,000 new applicants could join the existing 800,000 DACA holders as a result of this change. More young people will no longer have to fear being deported to a country where they may not speak the language and that they may not have seen since they were children, or even infants.

Although President-elect Joe Biden said he would reinstate the DACA program, only Congress can enact a permanent solution. U.S. senators and representatives must pass legislation to provide protection—and a pathway to citizenship—so DACA recipients can live their lives without fear of being deported or separated from their families.

“I have to prepare for my future, but I have to be aware that my plans for my future may not happen,” said Lupe, a DACA recipient and youth leader originally from Mexico who spoke to the IRC earlier this year. The twenty-two year old was clear that preserving the program was only half of the battle.

“We get to breathe for a bit, pero nuestra lucha sigue [our fight keeps going].”

Ending cruel policies at the U.S.-Mexico border

The Trump Administration’s increasingly restrictive policies violate international and U.S. asylum laws and have resulted in inhumane treatment of asylum seekers at our southern border. The Biden Administration will inherit and have to address these policies, which include separating children from their parents, limiting asylum eligibility, and unlawfully expelling people in need of humanitarian protection in the U.S.

While the IRC has outlined comprehensive recommendations needed to protect asylum seekers and preserve pathways for other people seeking safety, it is up to the president-elect's incoming administration to put a new asylum system in place that not only addresses the damage done in the past four years but also pushes the U.S. to do more to ensure the dignity, safety and recognition of rights for all.

A family seeking asylum at US/Mexico border
A family seeking asylum at US/Mexico border
5 yr old asylum seeker drew his house in Guatemala
5 yr old asylum seeker drew his house in Guatemala


Dec 11, 2020

Update: Support Refugee Children

Children completing schoolwork in Thailand
Children completing schoolwork in Thailand


Roughly 1 billion children have been affected by school closures related to COVID-19. Children in humanitarian settings face a double crisis as the health emergency disrupts their opportunities to learn, develop and thrive. Ensuring children can continue to learn during the pandemic, no matter their access to technology, must be central to the COVID-19 response in fragile contexts.

That’s why the International Rescue Committee (IRC) launched a remote learning program for refugee children and youth during the COVID-19 shutdown. The program is meeting a need in the local community beyond the IRC's work with our clients, partnering with school districts to reach families who haven’t previously worked with us.

IRC is employing innovative solutions to reach children in unique circumstances. In Tanzania, IRC has adapted materials for at-home learning, including play-based activities. In Colombia, a new audio platform will help teachers provide engaging audio content to students in their homes. In Bangladesh, IRC piloted tablet-based learning among Rohingya children without Internet access. In Jordan, Ahlan Simsim—context-specific early childhood programming—combines IRC direct services, via WhatsApp and phone calls, with Sesame Street mass media available on YouTube.

In Seattle alone, the IRC reaches over 140 students with virtual tutoring and online reading programs. We work with four school districts, where we already ran in-school and after-school programs, to connect with recently resettled families in need of these services. We have also delivered over 100 remote learning kits including essential school supplies, individualized reading and math learning materials, fun games, puzzles and coloring sheets. We plan to distribute over 200 summer learning kits at the end of this month to mitigate summer learning and reading loss and provide fun enrichment activities for children to engage in.

“It’s really important for children to continue their education and have access to these resources during a crisis,” says Rachel Stephens, IRC youth program coordinator in Seattle. “We know that school and a regular routine are key factors in helping students who have experienced trauma to recover and build resiliency. We also know that school closures disproportionately impact students with low English levels and low income levels, which is the majority of the families that we work with.”

Remote learning programs are just one of the ways in which the IRC is adapting our existing programs so that we can continue providing vital services to children during this global crisis.


Poor nutrition is often life-threatening—but almost always avoidable. Treating malnutrition is one of the most effective ways to improve children's growth and development. But for millions of families in crisis-affected areas, critical health services and resources remain out of reach:

Over 50 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition, which is linked to almost half of all deaths of children under the age of five. The vast majority of these children do not have access to treatment.

Many mothers and children living in crisis zones lack access to nutrient-dense foods. For children, such micronutrient deficiencies can lead to night blindness, poor immunity to severe infections, and a restricted ability to grow and learn.
Nearly 20 percent of all child deaths can be prevented by optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding. Supporting mothers to feed their infants is especially critical in crisis zones, where families have limited access to food, clean water and protection from illness.

What is the IRC approach to treating malnutrition?

Of the more than 50 million children who suffer from acute malnutrition every year, 75 percent don’t have access to treatment. Many have to walk for miles in search of health services with no guarantee of receiving help once they arrive. Even if treatment is available, few children are able to continue it until they successfully regain their health. These situations will only continue to worsen as conflict and crisis overtake countries in need.

The IRC has developed several new solutions for malnutrition that together offer the potential for transformative change:

1. Create a unified treatment program.

There are currently two different treatments for children with severe acute malnutrition and children with moderate acute malnutrition, supported by two different United Nations agencies. This duplication creates inefficiencies, wastes critical resources, and makes it difficult for children to access the care they need.

The IRC believes the way forward is to create a combined and simplified treatment process—one that allows all children with acute malnutrition to be treated using a single program. Our research, similar to other studies that have examined combined approaches to acute malnutrition treatment, found that it is effective to treat children with severe and moderate acute malnutrition together. This new, streamlined way of working offers the promise of stretching every dollar for treatment further.

2. Bring treatment to children

Sick children need treatment right when and where they need it. Traveling to a health facility is not only difficult when a child is ill, but also impossible in many conflict-ridden countries—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our solution is to bring treatment straight to children in their homes and communities, adapting our programs to safely provide continuing care during the coronavirus crisis. We’ve already seen success with this approach in training local health workers to treat diseases like pneumonia or malaria.

We’ve also created simple and intuitive tools that community health workers can use to diagnose acute malnutrition. One example is a color-coded armband that anyone can use to measure upper-arm circumference.

3. Scale up funding and the political will to save lives

For lives the world over to truly be transformed, greater political will and funding are needed to reach every child who is suffering. We are calling on governments, policymakers and humanitarians around the globe to help ensure that these approaches are actually taken up, fully funded, and put into practice.

We believe that by delivering care for acute malnutrition through this combined approach we can save the lives of nearly a million children over the next decade.

Socially distanced learning in Afghanistan
Socially distanced learning in Afghanistan
Treating a malnourished child in Somalia
Treating a malnourished child in Somalia


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