First COVID-19 case found inside Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon


A woman in her 40s became the first refugee living in a camp in Lebanon to test positive for the coronavirus, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said Wednesday. Her diagnosis triggered a spate of testing to determine whether other residents have been infected.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said the woman resided in the only Palestinian camp in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa region. It said all necessary measures had been taken and the patient was transferred to the government-run Rafik Hariri Hospital in Beirut.

A medical team on Tuesday travelled to the al-Jalil camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley to screen the women’s relatives and anyone else who had come into contact with her.

“We knew it was a matter of time before we had a case confirmed in the Palestine refugee community, and that’s what happened,” said Tamar al-Rifai, spokesperson for the UNRWA.

“Our position is that everyone who needs medical treatment for Covid-19 should get it, with no discrimination. UNRWA will cover the cost of the treatment of the confirmed case, and will support her family if they need to isolate themselves.”

The UN and authorities in the region had seen such a diagnosis as almost inevitable. But it prompted fresh calls to protect refugees from the pandemic, which could be devastating if it took root among the cramped and often unhygienic confines of refugee camps.

The rampant spread of coronavirus through developed nations, with advanced health systems, has caused deep alarm in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, where more than 12 million refugees, or internally displaced people, have little access to life-saving health care and cannot practice social distancing.

As fears grow that refugees will bear the brunt of the next wave of coronavirus, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has increased demands for them to be protected by upholding human rights laws.

Its head, Filippo Grandi, said: “The core principles of refugee protection are being put to test, but people who are forced to flee conflict and persecution should not be denied safety and protection on the pretext, or even as a side-effect, of responding to the virus.

The UNRWA, which has struggled since the Trump administration withdrew funding in 2018, has raised US$14m (£11.3m) for its initial Covid-19 response. With much of that money now spent, and fears of infections being realised, UNRWA leaders are launching a second funding appeal.

A total of 9,400 refugees are registered at Lebanon’s al-Jalil camp but the real population remains unknown, and could be as low as 3,000. Waves of departures to Gulf states, and undocumented arrivals from Syria over the past nine years, have made actual numbers of refugees in Lebanon, and their whereabouts, difficult to discern.

Lebanon hosts around 475,000 Palestinian refugees in 12 camps and 26 unofficial sites. They are among the most impoverished people in the country, which is also believed to have up to one million Syrian refugees. Many of the Syrians are living in informal settlements, which are even harder for health authorities to regulate. (Source: The Guardian)