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We need to show solidarity and compassion


Jan Egeland is secretary general of the Norweigian Refugee Council. We interviewed him as part of our #PassTheMic series. Here’s some of what he had to say.

There are currently 80 million people around the world who have been driven out of their homes by violence and conflict.

The Norwegian Refugee Council is one of the frontline responders to refugees and displaced people, and we have to do more for this group now during the COVID-19 pandemic than we ever have before.

Why? Because they lost their space. They lost their hygiene facilities. They lost their community centres. They lost their hospitals, when armed men drove them away from their homes and communities.

So, we start at a basic principle of humanity: those in greatest need require the most help. This is why we are urging the global community for solidarity to help the most vulnerable.

We have two enormous hits at the same time. One is the disease itself. But then even more people are hard hit by the socioeconomic consequences of the lockdowns. Tens of millions of people are feeding themselves from hand to mouth every day. They had a daily wage, and that is now gone.

Another issue is that there is 20 litres of water available per tent, per day. So that would be 2.5 litres per person for drinking, cooking, and hygiene. You cannot wash your hands all the time if you have only 2.5 litres of water.

The Norwegian Refugee Council helped nearly 9 million refugees and displaced people last year. We hope to reach 10 million this year. That will be twice the number of people that live in Norway.

Understanding our vulnerability

We’re in this together. That’s why we have a World Health Organisation and that’s why we have global leaders now urged to lead together.

I think this pandemic has taught us all how vulnerable we are. But to those of us living in Europe or North America, imagine being in a place where there are zero dollars invested from outside and you haven’t had a meal for a week, or your daily salary for the last two months.

So, while it is bad in the Global North, it is a hundred times worse for the people that we try to serve. Consequently, we need to show solidarity and compassion.

However, there are some leaders who say: “It’s important I fight for my country.” That approach couldn’t be more counterproductive. If it was a national epidemic in one or two countries, there might have been a logic to it. It would be cruel, but there might be logic. This is completely illogical.

Coronavirus is spreading across the world and we will be as weak as the weakest link in this chain.

I fear that they will end up having this virus forever, or until we all have a vaccine. Once we all have the same access to the vaccine, medicine, and care, then we will beat this pandemic and we will all be safe.

I find hope in the compassion that I’ve seen demonstrated among ordinary people. People are genuinely concerned about helping the most vulnerable outside of their community.

One more point that gives me encouragement is that we had 15,000 field workers before the pandemic, and we still have them. Like health workers around the world, humanitarian workers are stepping up to the challenge: 15,000 colleagues are responding and are eager to do more.

They just need resources to help the poorest in two ways. First, give them the care, space, and hygiene facilities that we take for granted. Second, help them survive the next wave of misery that follows a pandemic. We’re willing and able to do that.

This interview has been edited and length and clarity.

Hear more from experts in our #PassTheMic campaign, where global health experts take over celebrities’ social media channels to share the data, facts, and science we need to know to end COVID-19. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more.

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