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The Coronavirus Pandemic Hits Refugees

Common Bond Institute

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting billions of people worldwide. Refugees are among those most at risk.

Steve Olweean is the founding director of the Common Bond Institute in Climax, Michigan. It helps provide training and health care services to millions of Syrian refugees in Jordan.

"We see them as sitting ducks right now for not only contracting the virus but also dying from it - there's an increasing number of deaths in this population - and spreading it to the larger community."

Olweean says "social distancing" isn't possible in crowded refugee camps and apartments. So he says Common Bond is working with its local partners to set up more tele-health centers there.

Credit Common Bond Institute
Common Bond Institute
Working with refugee children in Jordan

"We're establishing virtual stations at as many of the apartment complexes and large group homes and camps, where there are large numbers of people already needing to be with each other in close proximity."

The centers allow healthcare professionals, many of them medical students, to interact with the refugees via videoconference. They provide information about the pandemic, including how to recognize symptoms of COVID-19 and how to help slow the spread of the virus.

Common Bond started in 1990 and worked with other agencies to help people caught up in the Balkan conflict. It later began serving refugees in the Middle East.Its work includes dealing with the psycho-social effects of conflict like PTSD and other forms of mental trauma.

Olweean says the effects of the pandemic in Jordan and neighboring countries like Lebanon could be catastrophic unless they get help soon. He saus it's up to the rest of the world to look beyond its own problems and respond.

"This will affect us. If you have an entire generation, and future generations, who grow up in the midst of this kind of traumatic experience and profound loss, the world will feel the effects of that. So, it's both altruistic and it's self-serving as well, in a postive way."

Olweean says a major part of Common Bond's work is to help communities overseas develop and expand their own healthcare capabilities.

"When we do services, it's really to demonstrate this to our local colleagues, to give them field experience where we can supervise them in practicing their learned skills. And then look at turning over the responsibility and the authority for continuing those pilot service projects, and expanding on them and replicating them, to our local trainees."

Andy Robins has been WMUK's News Director since 1998 and a broadcast journalist for over 24 years. He joined WMUK's staff in 1985. Under his direction, WMUK has received numerous awards for news reporting.
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