Millions in foreign aid spending will soon be implemented by the Canadian government to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus abroad. International Development Minister, Karina Gould noted that most of the spending will go towards developing countries and refugee camps.
An announcement was made by the government last week that $50 million will be going to the World Health Organization as well as other bilateral aid according to The Globe and Mail. The money will come from the $1 billion coronavirus response package. Some of the money is expected to start being sent to the organizations in a matter of days.
Gould said that she is consulting with non-governmental organizations and international agencies to find the best use of Canada’s support. She added that she is most concerned about the vulnerable people, such as people in refugee camps.
“They’re already in close quarters, their access to health care is limited. Their ability to get tested is limited. Their access to food and sanitation is limited. So one of the things we need to be doing is to ensure we are containing the spread within those very marginal and vulnerable populations,” said Gould.
While no major outbreaks in a refugee camp have been reported yet, Gould noted, “we’re always going to be five to 14 days behind the virus so just because there aren’t cases reported doesn’t mean that there aren’t cases there.”
Gould added that the money is also meant to support research for developing a coronavirus vaccine.
“We can’t prioritize one population over another because it doesn’t matter who you are, where you live or what your socio-economic background is. The virus doesn’t care about those things.”
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are 11 asylum seekers who now have the virus in Germany and one of the facilities where a refugee was staying is on lock down.
“To effectively deal with the crisis, refugees and other displaced populations should be included in all national preparedness and response plans," said UNHCR’S representative to Canada, Rema Jamous Imseis.
Women's rights advocacy specialist Brittany Lambert said social distancing in overcrowded camps is “totally impossible.”
Lambert said that in the Greek island of Lesbos, Moria refugee camp holds approximately 20,000 people though it was built to hold just 3,000. There has been a case of the virus reported on the island and Lambert said that if the virus is brought to any of the camps, “it would just be devastating.”
The continent of Africa has yet to be hit hard by the virus though there are now confirmed cases in many of the countries with refugee camps such as Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“In a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo … there’s just so much ongoing conflict and displacement, people moving around, it becomes very hard to trace contact and to test people properly.”
Vice-president of CARE Canada, Jessie Thompson noted that the organization is very concerned about large camps such as Cox’s Bazar located in Bangladesh.
"The most recent information I had from Bangladesh, for example, was that COVID testing was only available in Dhaka, so it’s not available in places like Cox’s Bazar. So the testing capabilities in these more rural areas and in refugee settings is a challenge and as a result we’re not having much information."