JRS staff disinfecting the community centre in Qaraqosh, Iraq.

COVID-19 response

Join us in accompanying refugees during COVID-19

How are refugees affected by the pandemic?

The spread of COVID-19 knows no boundaries: more than 100 countries around the world have already reported cases of the virus. Already fleeing from war, violence, and emergency situations, the over 70 million refugees and displaced people around the world are likely to be among the hardest hit by this pandemic.

Most refugees live in countries that are less prepared to combat the outbreak, where conflicts have destroyed health care infrastructures and weakened the health systems. Overcrowded refugee camps and urban areas with lack of sanitation increase the possibility for COVID-19 to spread rapidly. In many places, refugees already suffer from limited access to essential services and decent healthcare and are unlikely to be prioritised in the distribution of hygiene kits and future vaccination programmes. Moreover, they are especially vulnerable to the social and economic repercussions of this pandemic.

The needs of our refugee brothers and sisters cannot be neglected. More than ever, now is the time to stand united as a global community and care for the most vulnerable, as Fr Thomas H. Smolich SJ, JRS International Director, says in his letter.

How is JRS responding?

All non-essential services have been closed, including all JRS schools in response to government directives. We continue to carry out activities that can be handled remotely, while we are exploring technology solutions for programmes that cannot operate in their traditional formats.

Accompanying refugees during COVID-19

  • In Italy, under the lockdown imposed by Italian authorities, we have equipped our soup kitchen in Rome for the distribution of food baskets and we are liaising with other religious communities to unite forces for the most effective response.
  • In Greece, we are providing food support to the students and families of the JRS Arrupe Centre, as well as exploring remote learning options, for students to continue their schooling. The second-hand shop is still operative, providing hygiene products to those we serve.
  • In Jordan, some individual and group sessions via Skype have continued for students who have a stable internet connection. Our teachers are preparing course videos to be shared online.
  • In Kenya, we continue running the Safe Haven shelter for vulnerable women and children. We are also doing emergency counselling and visiting special needs school children who have medication/behavioral issues for which their parents need assistance.
  • In Ethiopia, we are offering psychosocial support and counselling by phone to the most vulnerable individuals. We’ve installed hand washing stations in all our project sites, and are raising awareness about COVID-19 prevention and education.
  • In India, we are providing dry rations to refugee families based in Delhi, and increasing awareness around COVID-19 prevention and social distancing in the camps in Tamil Nadu.
  • In Lebanon, we are offering refugees psychosocial accompaniment via cellphones and WhatsApp, and we have adjusted our education programme to online learning.
  • In Australia, we moved our foodbank service to delivery-mode to ensure the distribution of basic food and hygiene essentials to refugees while maximising social distancing measures.
  • In Thailand, JRS is offering emergency shelters for quarantine and looking to meet urgent needs. We are providing assistance for COVID-19 tests and related costs for urban refugees who have no valid documentation. Thanks to interpreters available on call, we are running hotlines for psycho-social support, casework, and other protection services. Counselling materials in both print and video formats have also been disseminated to refugee and asylum seeker communities.
  • In Afghanistan, in collaboration with our local partners, we have distributed 3,500 hygiene and informational kits to help students stay safe and healthy. We are also running English language lesson broadcasts on Herat-AVA radio station to keep marginalised communities learning during the pandemic.
  • In Central African Republic, we are training parents and providing them with education kits, to help children continue school at home. We are also exploring community radio broadcasts where teachers will provide live lessons.
  • In Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi, we are using the community radio for the camp to continue primary school lessons; in partnership with Konexio, we distributed laptops and data bundles to the students of the Digital Inclusion Programme so they can connect from home and continue improving their digital skills.
  • In Macedonia, we continue to provide services like food and medicine distribution and legal counselling and aid at both the reception centre and the Skopje detention centre.
  • In Mexico, on the Guatemala border, our work has moved to the telephone: we offer legal assistance, psychological accompaniment and emergency needs assessment over WhatsApp and other phone apps for Central American refugees seeking safety and hope.
  • In Tanzania, we have been distributing hand-wash installations and bar soaps in refugee camps and conducting educative radio programme to raise awareness on the pandemic.

Standing with refugees and migrants in the midst of COVID-19

JRS joins UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s appeal to all the warring parties across the world for an immediate global ceasefire in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19. As global relief efforts continue, JRS calls on policymakers and partners to take appropriate steps to guarantee the right to asylum for those in need of protection, to stop detention and deportation of asylum seekers, and to provide equal access to hygiene and health services.

Refugee children hosted by Centro Astalli (JRS Italy) hang a message of hope on a window.
Refugee children hosted by Centro Astalli (JRS Italy) hang a message of hope on a window.

What can you do? 

Your support and expression of solidarity is as important now as ever. While still respecting social distancing and quarantine, there are many ways YOU can help:

Join Pope Francis in praying for the sick and the suffering, while thanking all those who, united and regardless of their religious tradition or convictions, pray for those affected by the virus.



From Italy to Syria to Bangladesh, JRS will continue to accompany displaced people facing the added risks and repercussions of COVID-19. Make a gift today to help us prepare for the further spread of the virus.  


We must remain in solidarity with our displaced brothers and sisters. Learn and share their stories to ensure that their voices are heard.

Let us stand united as a global community to care for the most vulnerable and in doing so, care for our world and ourselves.
Fr Thomas H. Smolich SJ, JRS International Director