A UNHCR staff member inspects and packs aid items – including soap, disposable paper towels and thermometers – to distribute to refugee settlements in Iran as part of the COVID-19 response

A UNHCR staff member inspects and packs aid items – including soap, disposable paper towels and thermometers – to distribute to refugee settlements in Iran as part of the COVID-19 response. © UNHCR/Farha Bhoyroo

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, airlifted today (23 March) some 4.4 tonnes of much-needed medical aid items, including supplies to support the COVID-19 response in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Airbus A330-200 arrived at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran from Frankfurt at 17.40 (CET) delivering masks, gloves and essential medicines to help address critical shortages in Iran’s health care system. Further flights are scheduled in the coming weeks to transport additional aid-items, medicine and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers.

There are close to one million refugees in Iran who have access to the same health services as the host community and are covered under the national health response. However, hospitals and health centres are struggling to cope with the sharply increasing number of individuals needing urgent help.

“These aid items are a vital lifeline for improving health care in Iran, benefiting refugees and their hosts,” said Ivo Freijsen, UNHCR Representative in Iran. “We stand in solidarity with the people of Iran and are fully mobilized to help contain the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate the impact on the most vulnerable, amongst them refugees,” he added.

The virus has now spread to all 31 provinces of Iran. Refugees, most of whom live side by side with host communities in villages, towns and cities, are at the same risk of catching the COVID-19 as Iranians.

Already during the early stages of the epidemic, UNHCR, in coordination with the Government of Iran, distributed basic hygiene items such as soap and disposable paper towels to some 7,500 refugee families living in refugee settlements across the country. Aid items have also been made available to Government and NGO partners who are also engaged in the provision of assistance to refugees.

UNHCR continues to work closely with Iran’s Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants’ Affairs, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education, UN agencies including the World Health Organization, and national and international NGO partners to raise awareness of key prevention measures amongst refugees and host communities.

“We are thankful to our donors, particularly the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), who have rapidly rallied around Iran and UN agencies in this crucial moment,” said Freijsen.

Globally, UNHCR is urgently seeking an initial US$33 million to boost preparedness, prevention and response activities to address the immediate public health needs of refugees and host communities prompted by the spread of COVID-19 around the world. In Iran, UNHCR is seeking US$9.5 million for its COVID-19 emergency measures and for its support to the national health care system to which refugees have access.

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Originally published on UNHCR on 23 March 2020

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