Together we heal, learn and shine - World Refugee Day


Today we mark World Refugee Day, in the midst of a pandemic that has had a deleterious impact on public health, as well as on the economy. Refugees, internally displaced persons, migrants and stateless persons have felt this crisis most acutely and risk being left behind. This year, as we reflect on World Refugee Day, we must also recall that to win the battle against the pandemic, safe and effective vaccines should be accessible to all across the globe.

© UNHCR / Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo. Venezuelan refugees and migrants cross the Simon Bolivar International Bridge, the main border crossing point into Colombia from Venezuela. Half of Venezuelans on the move face high risks in their journey to safety because of their age, gender, health or other needs, or because they had to make drastic choices to cope.


Unfortunately, the pandemic has not stemmed the flow of refugees and other displaced persons. Protracted conflict and political crises meant that by mid-2020, more than 80 million people in the world were forced to leave their homes. The Syrian and Venezuelan refugee crises remain the biggest ones in the world.

The EU has been at the forefront of the international response to major refugees crises. The EU assists the socio-economic integration of Venezuelan refugees and migrants and provides support to their host communities. Our development support currently stands at EUR 136 million. Together with its Member States, the EU is the biggest donor to the Syrian crisis response, with EUR 24.9 billion mobilised since 2011, providing EUR 2.4 billion to Lebanon alone.

The EU’s contribution also includes efforts to address the root causes of forced displacement, including through conflict prevention and resolution, as well as wider efforts to foster peace and security. Protecting children in fragile and vulnerable settings, and providing access to education and social activities, including sport, continue to be areas of special focus in the EU’s efforts.

The EU also supports the significant efforts made by countries hosting large numbers of refugees. In particular, we support host communities in fostering their social inclusion, through measures addressing access to education, health, employment and livelihoods. A new initiative, the “Lives in Dignity Grant Facility”, has just been unveiled as part of the EU’s efforts to support innovative development-led approaches in this regard. The first EUR 12 million of the EUR 24 million seed funding will focus on regions in Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.

How has the EU supported refugees during the pandemic?

This week, the EU organised an open online session to reflect on the challenges faced by people on the move, particularly during the pandemic. Several EU institutions joined the session, as well as UNHCR and human rights activist Anila Noor.

Solidarity towards those seeking support and the responsibility to ensure the respect for their rights were two strong messages shared. The new Pact on Migration and Asylum contributes to this acknowledgement. From its draft to its implementation, bilateral and multilateral cooperation is essential – important to highlight the cooperation with national authorities, UNHCR, IOM and civil society organisations.

Ensuring protection in the combat to COVID-19

Doctor treating a patient

"Albania is like a second home to me. Albanian people are curious about us but have shown a great welcome for me and my little son"

Evelyne is a Congolese refugee, living in Albania for the past few years. UNHCR’s partner RMSA has accompanied Evelyne throughout her integration journey in Albania, from education to job training, financial support to health assistance.

Thanks to the contribution of the EU’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments as part of the project "Identifying and Addressing COVID-19 challenges within the Migrant and Refugee Response in the Western Balkans", refugees like Evelyne have been able to access health services during the COVID-19 pandemic

Medical equipment boxes

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and the European Union donated tens of thousands of personal protective and hygiene items to Montenegro’s Ministry of Interior to protect refugees and asylum seekers as well as the Ministry’s front-line workers. In all 50,000 masks, 50,000 gloves, 4,000 bottles of hand gel and 1,500 liters of medical alcohol were provided, the aim being to reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The donation is provided through a regional project Addressing COVID-19 Challenges within the Migrant and Refugee Response in the Western Balkans, which is financed under the EU’s Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace.

In Montenegro, the project contributes to mitigating the risk of transmission of COVID-19 among refugees and asylum seekers and front-line workers by upscaling the healthcare services provided in the asylum system, along with improved sanitary infrastructure and availability of hygiene items and protective equipment. 


Access to education today for a brighter tomorrow

Needs resulting from COVID-19 may express in different ways. Access to education has been affected as distancing measures have been applied. Provision of digital equipment and support for digital literacy have now proven to be much more important than before.

Duaa fled from Syria in 2013, when she was only 5 years old, and settled with her family in a camp in Lebanon. Syrian refugees make up more than 20% of Lebanon’s population, the highest refugees-to-population ratio in the world. Up until last year, Duaa had never received any form of formal or informal education in either Syria or Lebanon. She did not know how to read or write.

Last year, Duaa began participating in an EU-funded project developed by a local organisation to provide her basic literacy and numeracy skills. She began watching sessions through the “Can’t Wait to Learn from Home” programme on a TV set in the family’s makeshift tent, and via a receiver delivered and installed by our technicians. She was able to interact with her facilitator via videos shared on WhatsApp on her mother’s phone. Within a few months Duaa could read and write. She learned about numbers and was finally able to write words and form complete sentences.

Woman working in a laptop

In Sarajevo, the mobile team of the BHWI Foundation in partnership with UNHCR handed over computers to families from the population of recognized refugees, persons under subsidiary protection and asylum-seekers in the area to ensure access to online education for the children.

Classes were transferred to online platforms to prevent the spread of the virus. This action posed an additional challenge for the most vulnerable communities, therefore action was needed to support access to digital tools.

Man working in a computer

Thanks to the support of the European Union, UNHCR also donated ten sets of computers to TRC Sedra and TRC Borici youth corners. The youth corners are now equipped for communication and learning opportunities, especially for children attending online classes due to COVID-19 pandemic measures in place but also for other centre dwellers wishing to further develop their education through platforms like Coursera.

See also