World Refugee Day 2020

Imagine being forced to flee your home, only to face the additional threat of coronavirus. This World Refugee Day meet the people who are facing a crisis within a crisis.

Right now, there are nearly 80 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people around the world (UNHCR). That’s 1% of the global population.

Forced to flee their homes, they settle in overcrowded camps and displacement centres, where living conditions are often dire.

People who don’t have a place to call home struggle to stay safe and healthy.

Coronavirus is making the situation even worse.

In congested refugee camps, it’s almost impossible to follow social distancing guidelines. For many families, water and soap are rare luxuries, making it difficult to wash their hands regularly. Household items are also often scarce, and different families are forced to share everyday items like pots and pans, which increases the risk of spreading the virus.

Meet some of the people who have had to flee their home because of conflict in Syria and Nigeria and learn more about how we’ve supported them.

What is a refugee?

A refugee is a person forced to flee their country because of war, violence or persecution.

Over half of all refugees around the world come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

The refugee crisis is far from over. Every minute, 20 people around the world leave everything behind to escape war, persecution and terror.

They flee in search of a safer place for themselves and their children, often seeking asylum in other countries.

What is an asylum seeker?

When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum. Asylum is the right to be recognised as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance.

Source: UNHCR

Meet Abu


As coronavirus wreaks havoc across the world, families in Syria are still reeling from losing their homes and livelihoods. They’re just beginning to understand what the pandemic could mean for them.

Abu’s home was destroyed by shelling in early 2020. Since then he has been living in a camp with his three teenage children. Speaking to our partner ReliefAid in Syria about his concerns around coronavirus, he said:

“I heard that Covid-19 is a disease that affects the respiratory system and sometimes leads to death. I am worried, because if it spreads here it will lead to a catastrophe as there are no nearby hospitals. I think people will die because no one is treating people.

A man in a Syrian refugee camp

“Already there are a lot of people sick here due to the difficulties they experienced during their displacement. Our life is tough now, I lost my land, my house, my job and everything. We have suffered and been displaced a lot.”

Abu received ShelterBox aid to help him and his family protect themselves from coronavirus and stay as healthy as possible. He said: “All the materials are important and useful, especially the kitchen set, because we now have our own materials and we do not borrow anything from anyone, such as spoons and pots.”

Meet Fatima


woman in a bright blue scarf in Cameroon
“When I heard that I would have a shelter just for my family I was somehow relieved but also still worried. I had to start thinking on how to get loans to start a business and stop being a person in need every time.”

Fatima was living a peaceful life with her family in Nigeria when Boko Haram attacked her village.

Fatima’s cousin and mother were killed, and her husband was arrested and taken away. Alone with her children, she ran as far away as she could, eventually reaching Minawao camp in Cameroon.

The family spent four whole months living in cramped conditions, with limited food and under horrible circumstances. When Fatima was given a ShelterBox tent and other household items like cooking sets, she felt relieved.

Having a shelter and essential items of her own allowed Fatima to focus her energy on how to earn a living. She managed to start her own business selling food and send her children back to school. Like many others, Fatima is on a journey to a better life. “I will face stormy weather with confidence.”

Fatima’s story

Mariamou, Cameroon


“I’ve heard about coronavirus and I feel concerned by the disease even though nobody here is yet sick. Many organisations have made us aware of the danger and the precautions we need to take.

“There is no money to buy soap every time or to buy face masks to cover our faces. There is no water near to the camp, and the water we do have is dirty. It’s not easy to respect the distancing measures here on the camp because we are used to living in groups.

“The items I’ve received allow me to protect myself and my family by staying at home and avoiding being contaminated if the virus arrives at the camp.”

Woman wearing a cream scarf in Cameroon

Vadzai, Cameroon


Woman in Cameroon

“I feel concerned about coronavirus because it is a dangerous disease. Even powerful countries in the world are afraid of this disease so I am anxious for all of us here since we live in precarious conditions.

“The real challenge is to respect all the measures prescribed. For instance, during food distribution, it is difficult to stay away from others or to avoid touching them. Another challenge includes the scarceness and cost of soap in this village. We have no real jobs, so the money we earn allows us to buy food and medicines. There is not enough money to buy face masks for the whole family.

“The items I received will help me in respecting the distancing measures. Now I can avoid crowded places and stay away if somebody falls sick.”

Emergency shelter can save lives

Coronavirus sheds a light on the fundamental importance of shelter. Emergency shelter has a vital role to play in moving people from overcrowded camps and collective centres to a more private space.

Please join us in the global fight against coronavirus and help slow the spread before it’s too late.

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Image credit: Muhammed Said/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images