Refugees in Turkey left out of COVID-19 vaccine rollout

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Many refugees in Turkey have not been able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 because of language barriers and a lack of knowledge about their rights, Deutsche Welle (DW) Turkish service reported.

Although registered refugees have the right to be vaccinated, many are not informed of this. According S.G., who fled from Iran to Turkey seven years ago, even if they were to know of their rights, most refugees would be unable to get an appointment from the online system. “Many do not have phones or Internet connections, and some are illiterate. They can’t fill out the Turkish documents for the appointment,” S.G. said.

Speaking to DW, Fars Khatab, a Syrian refugee and a journalist, said unless authorities added the Arabic language to the vaccination appointment system, many refugees would be unable to access it. “Some refugees have no idea about their right to get vaccinated. We try to inform them via publications in Arabic,” he said.

Dr. Yeşim Yasin, a public health expert, said many refugees did not trust the vaccine and were not adequately informed by authorities. “Indecisiveness is one of the biggest reasons why refugees do not get vaccinated,” she said. “Language barriers contribute to their indecisiveness because they do not have information on the system or the vaccine.”

Dr. Yasin said the vaccine rollout was well behind when it came to refugees and that the situation of undocumented refugees remained unclear. “Health centers are obliged to call authorities if undocumented refugees come by, so many would not go to get vaccinated even if they were able to,” she said.

Undocumented refugees encounter numerous difficulties in hospitals and local healthcare centers, according to Dr. Yasin. Some hospitals seize their passports while others charge them large sums of money for treatment. Incidents like these have deterred refugees from visiting these centers.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in April called for all host countries to provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for refugees.

According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide. The country is currently home to some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees along with close to 320,000 persons of concern from other nationalities.

Source: Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF)

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