| Press release
COVID-19: IFRC warns Europe’s poorest countries are being left behind, as deaths hit grim milestone
Budapest/Geneva, 21 April 2020 – As Europe reaches the grim milestone of 50 million infections and 1 million lives lost to COVID-19, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) calls for more equitable access to vaccination to counter disparities across countries and ensure no one is left behind.
More than a year into the pandemic, the situation continues to worsen despite vaccination rollout. The Europe region accounts for one third of cases and deaths worldwide, and the socio-economic crisis is deepening as newly vulnerable people seek help to meet their basic needs.
Dr Davron Mukhamadiev, IFRC Regional Health and Care Coordinator for Europe, said: “Vaccine inequity is both concerning and dangerous. COVID-19 does not stop at borders, and our safety relies on widespread immunization. However, some of the poorest countries in Europe are struggling to move forward.”
As of 6 April, just 12.3 per cent of the population in Europe had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the lack of equitable access to immunization is still worrying: in low income countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, only 0.4 per cent of total inhabitants had been vaccinated, on average, while in the richest countries that figure stood at 17.7 per cent.
The IFRC is seeking funding for its immunization plan, targeting 500 million of the most vulnerable people around the world, as part of the organization's emergency appeal to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, at present this is only 51 per cent covered. Without more funding, IFRC will be unable to make a meaningful difference for those in need.
Dr Mukhamadiev said it is crucial for governments to step up their commitments towards ensuring that everyone has equal and timely access to the vaccine.
“Equity is both a moral and public health imperative. None of us is safe, until we are all safe. At the national level, it is essential to guarantee that homeless, migrants – irrespective of their status – and other vulnerable groups are included in vaccination plans.”
Hopes of Europe returning to normality are fading, as health systems in many countries continue to be overburdened and intensive care units reach a critical point.
“Worryingly, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across Europe are still witnessing the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic every day, everywhere,” warned Dr Mukhamadiev.
“Volunteers who run ambulance services or support nursing homes and hospitals are directly confronted with illness and death, while those providing other types of assistance now deal with increased human suffering and people in need, including the newly vulnerable: including those who have lost their jobs and can’t make ends meet and those who cannot deal with difficulties such as isolation,” he said.
In Spain, for example, 52 per cent of the people who asked for psychosocial support through the Spanish Red Cross’ ‘Cruz Roja Te Escucha’ service in the last months had never sought help from the organization before. Two thirds of the total reported having emotional distress most or all the time – including depression and anxiety.
Dr Mukhamadiev said the key to successfully combatting successive waves of COVID-19 is vaccination and testing, together with improved treatments and preventative measures. People should continue to routinely wearmasks, wash hands and keep physical distance, as those measures play a major role in mitigating the spread of the virus.
Note to editors:
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Europe have reached nearly 100 million people with health and hygiene promotion activities since the beginning of the pandemic. They have also provided food and other material aid to more than 14.4 million, cash or voucher assistance to 2.9 million, and psychosocial support to 1.8 million.
Local teams are working tirelessly to help the most vulnerable, and continue stepping up vaccination, testing and awareness-raising interventions. Here are some examples:
In Spain, staff and volunteers have assisted more than 3.5 million people through the ‘Cruz Roja Responde’ multisectoral plan, which includes emergency services and the set-up of temporary hospitals and shelters together with other types of support; they are also testing migrants rescued from the sea, and supporting vaccination in nursing homes and for persons with disabilities.
In Italy, staff and volunteers are running one of the largest vaccination centres in the country, in Rome’s Fiumicino airport. Furthermore, volunteers are sharing information on a web radio station run by young migrants, and running podcasts on COVID-19; they are translating materials into migrants’ own languages, and circulating them in reception centres while operating a toll-free 24/7 hotline.
In Greece, staff and volunteers in the islands, Athens and Thessaloniki are giving a hand with the health screening for migrants, they are responding to thousands of daily calls to their multi-language hotline, and they are disseminating preventative messaging. They have also supported the routine vaccination of migrants, and stand ready to assist in COVID-19 immunization.
In Serbia, staff and volunteers are involved in the nation-wide vaccination campaign against COVID-19 and have assisted some 447,750 people – from phone calls for vaccination appointments to distributing leaflets, transporting vulnerable people, helping at the immunization points with temperature checks and paperwork – and, in some places, organizing vaccination in Red Cross premises.
National Societies in seven countries (Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain) are additionally scaling up COVID-19 testing thanks to a €35.5 million partnership with the European Commission.
 Data from the World Health Organization (WHO)
Masouma: Volunteering because she cares
By Georgia Trismpioti, IFRCMasouma, a young Afghani woman living at the Kara Tepe refugee camp in Greece for the last six months, is a shining example of an empowered woman.A mother of two, Masouma dedicates much of her free time to volunteering for the Red Cross. Her role as a hygiene promoter is to help her community stay aware of the biggest public health risks, to use safe hygiene practices and make the best use of the water and sanitation facilities.“I feel it is my responsibility to care for my community. I would say that no matter who you are, you have the power to impact the lives around you through volunteering,” Masouma said.She helps the community understand more about the diseases that come from poor hygiene and sanitation, as well as good hygiene practices, the best use of personal hygiene items. She visits people in their tents, and is involved in advisory, mediation and referral services. “I have learned that service is using the gifts you already possess to improve others’ current circumstances. As a young woman, it is so empowering to me to be involved with humanitarian efforts because it is the most influential and powerful thing you can do,” she said.Red Cross works to improve water and sanitation infrastructure and hygiene awareness at the camp. Training of hygiene promotion community volunteers remains a priority to encourage community ownership.“I feel proud of the work within my community and our common efforts to make Kara Tepe a better place to live. By improving hygiene, educating about hygiene, and promoting good handwashing, we have seen a significant reduction of diarrhoeal cases among children,” she says.Volunteering can also support successful integration between the different communities in the camp by fostering exchange, increased contact, and building mutual awareness.“Volunteering helped me to gain new skills but the most important is that I have made new friends from different cultural backgrounds that allows me to build an understanding that no religion or culture is better than the other but that each has its unique features!”
| Press release
IFRC President: Migrants must not be left stranded at back of COVID-19 vaccine queue
Geneva, 17 December 2020 – The President of the world’s largest humanitarian organisation warns that inclusive action is urgently needed to safeguard the health and dignity of migrants worldwide, and to ensure they are not left behind as the first COVID-19 vaccines start being distributed.
Speaking ahead of International Migrants Day tomorrow, the President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Francesco Rocca, said: “As the first COVID-19 vaccines begin to roll out, migrants – irrespective of their status – must not be left at the back of the queue. The pandemic is having a catastrophic impact on people on the move, who are too often left to fall through the cracks when it comes to accessing essential health services. It is imperative that we address the many barriers to universal health coverage and that migrants are fully included in national vaccination campaigns.”
A recent IFRC report “Least Protected, Most Affected: Migrants and refugees facing extraordinary risks during the COVID-19 pandemic” revealed that migrants have been disproportionately exposed to, and affected by, the virus this year due to often limited access to essential health, water, sanitation and hygiene services, as well as poor and unsafe living and working conditions that make it harder to comply with basic preventative measures. It also showed that migrants are being hit hardest by the economic fallout of COVID-19, are widely neglected from formal protection and safeguarding measures, and regularly face stigma and discrimination – sometimes in the form of violence.
As countries begin their vaccination campaigns, migrants are at massive risk of being excluded yet again. And the inequitable distribution of vaccines between and within countries not only threatens to leave the most marginalised behind but also risks undermining our shared health if the virus is left to continue unabated within unprotected communities.
“For many months now, IFRC has called for a people’s vaccine that is delivered based on our shared humanity and commitment to defeat this pandemic by protecting the most vulnerable in society first. None of us will be safe until we are all safe. When future generations read about this pandemic in the history books, let them be proud that the world treated migrants, refugees and asylum seekers with dignity rather than ashamed that we turned our backs in this hour of greatest need,” added Mr Rocca.
Since the start of the pandemic, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies worldwide, supported by the IFRC, have stepped up their support to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in response to devastating impacts on lives and livelihoods:
In Turkey, household debts among refugees have doubled and more than 80 per cent of respondents to a recent IFRC and Turkish Red Crescent study reported a member of their family becoming unemployed due to the pandemic. Through the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN), funded by the European Union and implemented by the Turkish Red Crescent and IFRC, 1.8 million refugees receive cash assistance every month to help cover their essential needs such as rent, transport, bills, food and medicine. Additional financial support was provided from June to July to help people cope through particularly tough months.
In early October, a migrant caravan of over 2,300 people crossed from Honduras into Guatemala. The Guatemalan and Honduran Red Cross Societies provided assistance and care to hundreds of migrants on both sides of the border. For arriving migrants, the Guatemalan Red Cross volunteers provided a range of services including pre-hospital care, water, hygiene items, snacks, face masks, and accessible information on COVID-19 prevention.
Since early November, fighting in Northern Ethiopia has caused at least 40,000 people to flee into neighbouring Sudan. Arriving refugees are being accommodated in temporary shelters at transit centres, where the Sudanese Red Crescent Society is working alongside the State Ministry of Health to provide healthcare and emergency assistance. Together they have rehabilitated two clinics and are conducting health and nutrition screenings, medical consultations, and referrals. Red Crescent teams have provided soap, mosquito nets, sleeping mats, blankets and biscuits to those arriving. An additional truckload of non-food emergency items for 500 families has been dispatched.
In Greece, following a fire that destroyed Moria camp on Lesvos and prompted almost 11,000 refugees to flee, the Hellenic Red Cross has been providing vital health services, accommodation, essential items, psychosocial support and legal aid to people relocated to the new camp at Kara Tepe. Conditions in Kara Tepe fall short of international humanitarian standards, with sanitation and hygiene the main concern and tented accommodation not yet fully winterised.
| Press release
Red Cross expands COVID-19 testing in seven countries with €35.5 million EU support
Budapest/Geneva, 19 November 2020 – As Europe continues to experience a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths, the Red Cross will scale up COVID-19 testing with the announcement of a €35.5 million European Commission partnership.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has signed an agreement with the European Commission, financed by the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI), which will see COVID-19 testing carried out by National Red Cross Societies in Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain.
Across Europe, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are scaling up their support to embattled national health systems. The European Commission’s funding will support staff training and allow access to equipment, lab items and reagents to take samples and perform PCR and rapid antigen tests in support of national health authorities’ work.
IFRC Europe Regional Director, Birgitte Ebbesen, said that hundreds of thousands of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers in Europe and Central Asia are working tirelessly to curb the spread of the pandemic.
“We are truly grateful for this contribution, which allows an even stronger European Red Cross and Red Crescent engagement. Our volunteers are already working around the clock to keep their local communities safe and healthy.
“Besides COVID-19 testing, they are also assisting with transporting patients, volunteering in hospitals and health centres where medical personnel are sick or isolating and providing home care services and psychosocial support for vulnerable people. We are deeply grateful for their dedication and selfless work.”
Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety said: “Testing tells us what the extent of the spread is, where it is, and how it develops. It is a decisive tool to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
“Being efficient on testing also requires having the necessary resources, which is why we are stepping up our support to increase Member States’ testing capacity. Support and solidarity are key to overcome this pandemic,” she added.
Lesvos, Greece: A good-hearted girl in need of heart surgery
By Georgia Trismpioti, IFRC22-year-old Nour from Syria was lying under an olive tree in distress. She was nine months pregnant with her fifth child and feeling unwell. That is where I found her, and immediately called for assistance. Two nurses from the Hellenic Red Cross came to examine her health condition and give her comfort.Nour’s family decided to flee to Turkey after their house in Syria was destroyed by a bomb. They attempted to cross the border but were turned back five times before they succeeded. She just couldn’t give up – she wanted to give her children a “better life and a brighter future.”From Turkey, the family crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece only to find themselves in the notorious Moria camp on the island of Lesvos. A year ago, when they had settled down in Moria, Nour realized that she had to fight yet another battle.Her 3-year-old daughter, Tabia (which means good-hearted in Arabic), was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, “a hole in the heart”, which has a mortality rate of 90 per cent before age 10.“I have to save Tabia. She needs to be treated otherwise her life is at risk. We had an appointment at the Tzaneio hospital in Athens for a surgery, but the fires destroyed all my hopes,” said Nour.After devastating fires destroyed Moria camp, Nour and her family were not allowed to leave the island, so they were not able to transfer Tabia to the hospital in Athens for her surgery appointment.“My life is a daily struggle here in Lesvos. There’s dust, noise, lack of water, everything,” said Nour. “It's better than living in the street but still is so bad. I don’t want to give birth here.”Thanks to coordinated actions with IOM and UNHCR, it was quickly decided to transfer Nour and her family to a safer and more appropriate place for her to give birth.Upon hearing the good news, Nour held my hands tightly saying with a sparkling smile, “Thank you so much. Red Cross nurses made me feel that I am respected again because there are people who care about me.”How Tabia’s heart condition is going to be treated is still a concern.
Greece: “I’m halfway to reaching my dreams”
By Georgia Trismpioti, IFRCSomaya dreams of becoming a medical doctor and bringing relief to those who are suffering. Somaya and her family had to flee war-torn Afghanistan and sought refuge in Iran. She and her family have had a difficult life, but Somaya continues to chase her dreams of making a meaningful contribution to society.Somaya and her husband fled their home country - war-torn Afghanistan - in search of safety. "I left Afghanistan because there was always a feeling of being unsafe, anything could happen at any time," she says. ”For women in Afghanistan, there is no possibility for personal and professional growth.”Happy when helping othersIn early March 2020, Somaya and her family arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos after enduring more than 12 hours at sea in an unmanned dinghy. Two weeks later they were transferred to the Malakasa refugee camp in mainland Greece.“It is not what you might expect when you hear the words ‘refugee camp’, but life here is a privilege compared to Lesvos. I’m halfway to reaching my dreams for a better life,” she says with a radiant smile.Despite their uncertain situation, this optimistic and resilient woman is not one to sit idle. Somaya is volunteering as an interpreter with the Hellenic Red Cross at the Malakasa camp.“I want to help people and I’m happy when I am able to make people's life easier. It is gratifying work I’m doing here every day and when I sleep at nights I’m having sweet dreams,” Somaya says with a laugh.
| Press release
Greece-Turkey Border: Migrants must not be used as a political tool. The EU and Member States must act in solidarity now.
Geneva/Budapest, 3 March 2020 – Women, children and men caught up in the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the land border between Greece and Turkey, in the Greek islands and in the Aegean Sea must not be “used as a political tool”, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warned today.Speaking of the deteriorating humanitarian situation, IFRC President Francesco Rocca said: “It is unacceptable that children and families are exposed to tear gas and violence or have to risk their lives in the Aegean Sea. We will not be silent in the face of this dire humanitarian situation, which may become even worse in the next hours and days.”The IFRC is deeply concerned that thousands of people, including vulnerable children, may suffer the consequences of the recent surge of migrants trying to cross the border between Turkey and Greece. While Governments have the right and responsibility to set migration policies and to control their own borders, steps should be taken to ensure the implementation of such policies do not increase suffering.“EU Member States should respond in a spirit of solidarity to the recent increase in numbers of people seeking refuge at the EU’s external borders. They must enact their responsibilities in protecting people and saving lives. EU governments cannot turn their backs on Turkey and Greece. Southern European States cannot be left alone. All States have a responsibility to protect people and save lives,” President Rocca said.“We call on the EU and the national Governments to avoid using migrants as a political tool, to ensure that asylum seekers can apply for international protection, in line with international and EU laws. Access to humanitarian assistance and essential services, including healthcare, ought to be guaranteed for all people, in particular children and other vulnerable groups,” he ended.
| Press release
Statement on the Hellenic Red Cross reinstated as a member of IFRC
Geneva, 10 December 2019 – The Governing Board of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has lifted the suspension of Hellenic Red Cross with immediate effect.The Governing Board recognized that Hellenic Red Cross has made significant progress since being suspended on 1 January 2019, after concerns relating to its governance. That progress includes: A complete revision of the Hellenic Red Cross statutes, raising of the membership from 2,000 to more than 20,000, holding a successful General Assembly and design of a recovery plan.Announcing the return of Hellenic Red Cross, IFRC President Francesco Rocca said it was positive news for the whole Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.“We showed that integrity and accountability are key priorities for us, and we have the systems in place to detect any possible issue and to act accordingly. It is very important to have a well functioning National Society in Greece where there are many humanitarian challenges. “We are deeply committed to supporting the Hellenic Red Cross and its activities for its local communities and vulnerable migrants in the country.”IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As Sy said he encouraged all Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies to “stand ready to support the Hellenic Red Cross in its path to re-establish itself as the strong and healthy National Society”.However, the Governing Board noted that the Hellenic Red Cross still has areas to improve, and has requested the Compliance and Mediation Committee (CMC) to continue its monitoring role and further support the Hellenic Red Cross. In addition, the suspension measure can be reinstated at any time in case of regress.Mr Rocca said IFRC remains committed to the volunteers and staff of the Hellenic Red Cross, and to supporting the renewal of an effective, vibrant and viable Hellenic Red Cross.