COVID-19 From A Humanitarian Lens: A First-Hand Account

Khalil Ali, the Monitoring and Evaluation Assistant for the Humanitarian Support to Roj and Al-Hol Camps Program in northeast Syria, shares a first-hand account of the impact COVID-19 has on refugees and how his team is adapting to the evolving situation.

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Pictured: Khalil Ali

Wars. Pandemics. Crises. For humanitarian aid workers, these are realities we must face as we help vulnerable communities recover. It is tempting to give in to the fear brought on by these situations, but thinking of the needs of our beneficiaries keeps us going.

At the end of March 2020, as the threat of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic increased, preventive measures were taken to slow the spread of disease in northeast Syria. With the majority of our work taking place inside refugee camps, we had to reduce staff movement, start working from home, and suspend all large gatherings – which made up a big portion of our activities – to prevent the spread of illness.

The inability to conduct program activities or interact with beneficiaries in the same way was a significant operational shift we had to adapt to.

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Blumont team member working from home

Instead of allowing these new challenges to discourage us, our team looked at the situation as an opportunity to build on established relationships of trust with camp residents and find new ways to encourage them during this difficult time.

Displacement is a traumatic experience on its own. Displaced peoples’ stress is further compounded by the uncertainty of the pandemic, the need for large families to isolate themselves in tight spaces, and the spread of misinformation.

Yousra, a 33-year-old Iraqi refugee living in Roj Camp with her four children, shared her struggles with us.

“There has been a lot of panic in my family because of this pandemic. It has negatively affected us, especially my children,” she said. “They are extremely bored inside the tent and are constantly running around to try to keep themselves entertained. The whole situation has put me under a lot of stress.”

To alleviate some of the stress families are enduring and provide families with new sources of entertainment, the Blumont protection team developed brochures for distribution on a bi-weekly basis. These materials included accurate information on COVID-19 – how it spreads, its symptoms, and preventive measures – along with activities to help manage anxiety, stories for children to read, and ideas for games the family can play together inside their tent.

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Blumont team members preparing COVID-19 flyers for distribution

Our team used personal protective equipment as they went tent to tent to distribute brochures to 520 families. An additional 500 psychosocial assistance kits were distributed to women and children, which included coloring pencils and pages for children, puzzles for families to play together, and Play-Doh for kids.

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Protection Team distributing flyers door to door in Roj Camp

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Young girls reading the story of young Banas, the fictional character in the children’s story included in the flyer

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Woman receiving her psychosocial assistance kit

“The materials we received were of great importance in my family’s life,” Yousra said. “The activities suggested in the flyers helped us find new ways to manage our anxiety and improved our relationship by giving us fun ways to spend our time together inside the tent. Having accurate information also provided additional relief and resolved my unanswered questions.”

Although our activities may look a little different, our commitment remains the same. The message is clear: we will continue to find new ways to support vulnerable communities in times of need.


Work undertaken by Khalil and the team is part of the Humanitarian Support to Roj and Al-Hol Camps program in northeast Syria funded by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign affairs. The program fills critical service gaps in refugee and internally displaced persons camps to enhance the standard of living, meet immediate humanitarian needs, and maintain camp infrastructure.