UNHCR cash aids: Lifeline for thousands of refugees in Iran

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UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has stepped up its cash assistance to support thousands of extremely vulnerable refugees impacted by the continuing coronavirus pandemic in Iran.

UNHCR, along with the Iranian Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA), has supported more than 20,000 refugees since the beginning of the pandemic.

Some 9,000 among those have recently benefitted from a cash assistance scheme through pre-paid cards. Each individual receives some US$300 (a one-off payment) – enough to cover up to three months of basic expenditures.

Iran hosts nearly a million refugees, mostly Afghans who have sought safety in the country from a four-decade long conflict in Afghanistan and live side by side with Iranians.

UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said on Tuesday that further funding is needed to support many more that are facing increased hardship and destitution as their livelihood has been severely affected by the pandemic.

“Like elsewhere in the world, many people have also lost their jobs,” Baloch said. “Refugees, who usually rely on precarious and unstable jobs for their income, have been particularly hard hit.”

Iran’s economy has already been under substantial strain during the past two years, but COVID-19 has severely worsened economic conditions.

In just one year, the price of basic food items such as oil, rice and eggs has increased by some 21%, while the cost of transportation has soared by some 50%, according to government figures.

UNHCR estimates that the main breadwinner in approximately one-third of all refugee households has been left unemployed. Many refugees, who were already struggling to make ends meet, find it more and more difficult to fend for themselves.

Although refugees have not been disproportionately infected with COVID-19 compared to the national population, the economic impact of the pandemic on their lives has been particularly shattering.

The impact of job losses on refugees’ lives are mounting: some have had to take their children out of school and send them to work, while others report having to borrow money or reduce the number of meals they eat each day.

Refugees have shown incredible resilience in the face of COVID-19, but UNHCR is worried that more may resort to negative coping mechanisms, unless they receive more support.

UNHCR said that while the government of Iran has taken generous measures to include refugees in their national COVID-19 response plans, including through the provision of free tests, treatment and hospitalization, more support from the international community is urgently needed.

Baloch said the UNHCR and the government are exploring ways to support more refugees struggling to make ends meet as the agency has only received 36 per cent of the US$99.9 million need to continue supporting refugees and host communities, so far this year.

In the face of such unprecedented global challenges Baloch said it is critical that the international community comes together to help Iran in its humanitarian efforts, in the spirit of responsibility sharing. (Source: UNHCR)

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