Not So Bad After All? The Effects of COVID-19 in Iraq’s Refugee Camps

As COVID-19 panic begins to settle down with carefully crafted re-opening plans, data from the pandemic has yet to be definitively compiled on the effects of the virus. We have heard across the media during the past several months that the pandemic was likely to hit vulnerable communities the hardest. The effects on refugees and IDPs living in camps were particularly worrisome. But some of the effects of the pandemic are beginning to be revealed and are proving that this well-intentioned fear may actually have been just that – fear. This is the case in Iraq anyway.

Spokesperson for the UNHCR in Iraq, Firas Al-Khateeb, confirms that refugee camps “had very minimal positive cases.” In total, there were only two – one in a refugee camp and the other in an IDP camp. But how could that be? Al-Khateeb credits the painstaking efforts of the UNHCR during the past several months.

As early as March, the UNHCR took precautionary measures, including house visits, handing our brochures and word of mouth campaigns at local schools to teach communities about how to prevent contracting COVID-19. Refugees themselves acted as first responders in coordination with the UNHCR. In urban areas, the UNHCR provided monthly cash assistance for sanitary supplies to help slow the spread along with SMS updates on the virus.

“Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started, we have included [displaced persons] in the national health plans of every country where they are,” Al-Khateeb says. The UNHCR keeps track of the local health clinics and work with them to ensure an adequate response for those who exhibit symptoms. With the help of national authorities, the UNHCR traced all contacts of those who tested positive to slow the spread. This was especially important as “one case could affect the whole camp,” Al-Khateeb says.

As for the future, the UNHCR has designated quarantine areas in each camp, just in case a second wave hits. If that happens, Al-Khateeb assures me, they are well-prepared.

For more up-to-date reports on how the UNHCR is handling COVID-19 across the world, visit their website at

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