Coronavirus crisis has caused poverty to soar among Syrian refugees, global report finds

Poverty levels have jumped significantly since the Covid-19 outbreak

A child sits outside a tent at the flooded "Mukhayyam al-Khair" camp near the village of Kafr Uruq in the north of Idlib province on December 17, 2020, housing Syrians displaced from Saraqib and Maaret al-Numan, and following heavy rain in the previous days.  / AFP / OMAR HAJ KADOUR
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The coronavirus outbreak has caused poverty levels to soar among refugees from the Syria conflict and their host nations, a new report has found.

One million Syrian refugees and 4.4 million people in host communities in Jordan, Lebanon and the Kurdistan region of Iraq have been affected by the pandemic, says a study by the World Bank and the UN High Commission for Refugees.

In Jordan, the Covid-19 crisis is estimated to have increased poverty by 38 per cent among citizens, and by 18 per cent among Syrian refugees there.

The UN report notes that most refugees were already living well below the poverty line before the pandemic.

However rising inflation and an unstable economy has led poverty in Lebanon to increase by 33 per cent among citizens and by as much as 56 per cent among Syrian refugees. About 90 per cent of refugees in Lebanon cannot afford what is considered to be the minimum cost for survival.

Meanwhile, in Iraqi Kurdistan poverty levels among vulnerable groups have jumped by a quarter.

The rise in hardship has been blamed on a crisis in informal labour markets. Households with significant debts and few assets have been hit particularly hard.

"Projections show that heightened poverty will continue well into 2021, even when only the effects of the first wave of the pandemic are considered," the report said.

Many Syrian refugees will be unable to pay rent and meet basic household needs, and for those who were able to access education some of their children are now unable to continue schooling.

An increase in domestic violence and a rise in child marriage and labour within the Kurdistan region has also increased since March.
"The living conditions of Syrian refugees and of their host communities are very worrying," said Ayman Gharaibeh, director of UNHCR's bureau for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The human cost of the current crisis is high. The Covid-19 crisis has taken a huge toll on people’s well-being and their prospects for the future.

"People are cutting down on meals and taking on unsustainable debt, while we also hear about rising child labour.

TOPSHOT - A drone picture taken on December 15, 2020 shows a camp for displaced Syrians near the town of Kafr Lusin by the border with Turkey, in Syria's rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib.  / AFP / Aaref WATAD
A camp for displaced Syrians near the town of Kafr Lusin by the border with Turkey. AFP.

"We need to help the most vulnerable to mitigate the devastating consequences."

The report says bold action must be taken to stop the situation deteriorating further. It called for an increase in its own cash-assistance programmes and said broad international efforts were urgently needed.

“These programmes urgently need to be supported by the international community to allow them to be further scaled up and expanded," the report said.

There are believed to be 5.8 million registered Syrian refugees around the world, with the conflict now in its 10th year.