Rasha Kaloti

By Rasha Kaloti

Refugees and COVID-19 in Jordan: Obstacles and Opportunities
A conversation with Dr. Akihiro Seita of UNRWA

Image by Abdullah Ghatasheh at Pexels

This piece is based on a conversation with Dr Akihiro Seita, the health director at UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East), the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees’ sheltering, protection, education and health, among other services.

Summary of conversation

UNRWA works in four countries — Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria — that are home to an estimated 5.7 million Palestinian refugees. Palestinian refugees’ situations in these countries is dire, including in Jordan. They suffer from poor economic conditions and live in cramped housing in urban areas and camps, where they are prone to many infectious diseases.


Jordan has experienced three waves of the COVID-19 pandemic thus far,1 and the refugee population experienced a high level of transmission each time. COVID-19 has also resulted in job losses for many Palestinian refugees in Jordan, who were already suffering from high levels of poverty prior to the pandemic. 


The COVID-19 response in Jordan has been a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Health, UN agencies, and non-governmental agencies. COVID-19 testing is accessible and free of charge for all populations, including refugees. UNRWA took preventative measures in its health care centres for refugees in Jordan, including providing protective equipment and maintaining hygiene measures. Thus, UNRWA was able to maintain life-saving health services, however, the scale of other non-life-saving services by the agency was reduced as a result.


The Jordanian government also provided Palestinian refugees with free vaccines, with no distinction made between them and the host population in access. However, global vaccine inequality2 has impacted Jordan’s ability to secure enough vaccines for its population.


UNRWA received good international support for its COVID-19 response, but still lacks funding for its overall operations across program areas. UNRWA has been facing a financial crisis for a few years now, and its 30,000 staff are at risk of losing their jobs if funds are not sustained. This will in turn result in the further deterioration of the health and living conditions of Palestinian refugees worldwide.

Full Conversation

Key Take Away Messages

Entangling of Health & Wealth
  • Following a healthy lifestyle is expensive, particularly for poor populations, including migrant and refugee groups.


  • Poor living conditions for refugees in host countries make them more prone to diseases and infections, including COVID-19.


  • The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest health and economic threat for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, whereby the poorest suffer the most.


  • The longer the pandemic remains, globally, the less adherence to social distancing or mask wearing by populations worldwide.


  • It is important to keep in mind the impact of poverty on the adherence to pandemic control measures. People in general, and specifically those living in poverty, prioritise working and earning a living, and many of the jobs available require close contact with people.
Pexels Ahmed Akacha 6463345
Image by Ahmed Akacha at Pexels
Recommended Action Points
  • Global vaccination inequality results in insufficient supplies in (often) poorer countries, and this increases mistrust in vaccine and increased hesitancy as a result.


  • Equity in access to COVID-19 screening and vaccinations between low and high-income countries, and among all populations within countries — including migrant groups, is essential to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and future pandemics.


  • International collaboration must include investments in local healthcare systems in conflict-affected countries is required through international collaboration in order to ensure universal health coverage for all populations, particularly the most vulnerable ones, regardless of nationality.

Support UNRWA

You can donate to support UNRWA’s work through UNRWA’s website at 


  1. WHO. COVID-19 Dashboard. Jordan Situation. 2021. Accessed 8 December 2021.
  2. WHO. Vaccine Equity. 2021. Accessed 7 December 2021.

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