Unprepared for the Worst: The Danger of COVID-19 for Refugees

Unprepared for the Worst: The Danger of COVID-19 for Refugees

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Aurora Dialogues have gone online in 2020, allowing people from across the globe to join the discussion and contribute to it. The 2020 Aurora Dialogues Online event titled “Unprepared for the Worst: The Danger of COVID-19 for Refugees” took place on June 19, 2020 , ahead of the World Refugee Day, and featured two Aurora Prize Laureates who have a first-hand experience of dealing with the crisis and its consequences for those in need.

The discussion brought together Marguerite Barankitse, Founder of Maison Shalom, and Mirza Dinnayi, Co-Founder and Director of Luftbrücke Irak (Air Bridge Iraq), and was moderated by Sasha Chanoff, Founder and Executive Director of RefugePoint. The event, organized in cooperation with the Futures Studio discussion platform, focused on the additional pressures that refugees and other vulnerable communities face in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

To open the discussion, moderator Sasha Chanoff, Founder and Executive Director of RefugePoint and Aurora Prize Expert Panel Member, pondered on Aurora’s impact and the concept of Gratitude in Action, highlighting the importance of continuing the cycle of giving, especially in such hard times. “If we home in on this idea of gratitude and you think about what this means in your own life, then it can be an endlessly renewable force for life-changing good, and we absolutely need life-changing good today. COVID-19 has laid bare inequalities in society and it’s starting to hit refugees and displaced populations now,” he said.

Following the moderator’s question, Marguerite Barankitse, Founder of Maison Shalom and 2016 Aurora Prize Laureate, talked about the difficulties her community was facing because of the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictions it brought. “All of our 343 students had to stop their studies in universities and return to the refugee camp, and it’s very difficult for us. Other students can continue their studies online but unfortunately for the refugees, I have no computers for them. They lost an academic year. Also, the refugees who have to earn their living daily can’t go out [to work], can’t have something to eat. Others lose their jobs and we must feed them, but we didn’t prepare to feed all those people,” she said. Barankitse also explained that her organization had to turn to other NGOs and the Burundian diaspora for help, adding: “Love makes us inventors.”

After that, Mirza Dinnayi, Co-Founder and Director of Luftbrücke Irak (Air Bridge Iraq) and 2019 Aurora Prize Laureate, reflected on the impact of the current crisis on his organization’s activity. “Since Air Bridge Iraq mainly brought patients, mainly children, to Europe and to other countries for treatment, because of the lockdown our whole project has been stopped. We started a new mission in Armenia and sent our first child with congenital heart disease there. She was successfully treated but stuck in Armenia for more than a month before she and her mother could return back home. A lot of work that we were supposed to start in April or May, especially with the Aurora funds, has been put on hold. Our work is with transportation, with travel, and the travel restrictions have stopped it. This is the first time in the last 25 years that I’ve stayed home for three months,” he stressed out. However, Dinnayi also noted that the crisis did bring some new opportunities, too: “In some projects, we’re starting now to deliver online support, especially in training and empowerment. We can do some work, but not all of it.”

In conclusion, Sasha Chanoff thanked the panelists for their incredible work by saying: “When we think about COVID-19, refugees, persecution and war, racial violence and injustice, climate change, gender equality – the greatest challenges facing humanity – we need to, in the face of all the devastation, find places for inspiration, hope and action. When I try to think of words to describe the Aurora Prize and the Laureates and what you mean, some that come to mind include altruism, courage, bravery, selflessness, devotion, nobility, compassion and empathy. Mirza and Maggie, your actions and your voices exemplify all these things.”

You can watch the full video of the discussion below (in English).