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Najeeba Wazefadost

A new global advocacy initiative, #RefugeesRise, is bringing together refugee leaders from the Asia Pacific region to mobilise support for their communities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Convened by the Asia Pacific Network of Refugees (APNOR), the initiative includes refugee leaders and activists from all walks of life, including doctors, nurses, teachers and aid workers. 

#RefugeesRise showcases inspiring stories of resilience in the face of adversity and highlights the importance of refugee leadership – especially as the pandemic deepens economic and social stress within communities, with social distancing measures and even greater restrictions on movement.



Around the world, refugees are using their skills to help the communities in which they live. The #RefugeesRise campaign is about recognising, supporting and amplifying the actions which refugees are undertaking as frontline actors protecting communities in this global public health crisis. These frontline workers include Mahdia Zahidi, an asylum seeker nurse in Australia working 10-hour shifts in her local clinic; Muhadesa, a teacher who volunteers to help with remote education; and Javad, who provides emergency food packages to undocumented refugees in Iran and Afghanistan.  



These are a few examples of the many refugees who have risen at this time, leading and serving other refugees and their host communities.  

Through reporting and media outreach, #RefugeesRise is helping to elevate the perspectives of refugees and the challenges they face in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. To ground these perspectives, APNOR held virtual consultations with refugees and asylum seekers in the early stages of the pandemic to find out how they are responding locally. These consultations also served to promote awareness and disseminate information to communities which may not have easy access to information – another key objective of the #RefugeesRise campaign. 

To this end, APNOR has drawn on the expertise of trained healthcare professionals to host live online events in Arabic, Assyrian, Kurdish, Farsi, Dari and English which allow refugees to ask questions and hear from healthcare professionals in their own language. With the support of refugee nurses and doctors, the campaign has also produced bilingual education videos on COVID-19 prevention.



One of the challenges of the #RefugeesRise campaign is that, in hearing from refugees at the frontline of this pandemic, APNOR has become even more acutely aware of the gaps and needs facing refugee communities in different contexts. In particular, refugee-led responses continue to ‘make do’ with extremely limited resources or access to support. This is especially apparent in countries where refugees have an uncertain legal status, meaning they are excluded from government supports. To try to address these gaps in a small way, the #RefugeesRise campaign has launched an Emergency Appeal to generate resources for refugee-led initiatives. Through the financial support of partners, including Settlement Services International, APNOR has been able to provide food packages to particularly vulnerable refugees.

At this critical time, the #RefugeesRise Emergency Appeal is calling for donations to support local refugee-led initiatives in the Asia Pacific region and to deliver services, with a focus on initiatives that have limited access to alternative funding sources. The appeal also aims to build support for refugee participation and representation in all COVID-19 response planning and decision-making. We believe any response to support refugees needs to adapt so that refugees like ourselves can meaningfully participate in strategising, funding and implementing programs and policies that influence our lives.

Meaningful inclusion requires resources, yet up until now, most refugee-led activities and entities have been self-supported, requiring communities to rely on volunteers who, in some cases, have been giving their time for decades. #RefugeesRise is about realigning existing resources to support initiatives promoting meaningful participation by refugees, and recognising that there is considerable capacity within refugee communities to respond to crises like the one we are facing now.


Najeeba Wazefadost is Founder of the Asia Pacific Network of Refugees and Global Refugee Led Network, and Gender advocate and policy influencer at Settlement Services International 


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