Opinion| The Embassy of Switzerland in Egypt against COVID-19

Paul Garnier
8 Min Read

In 2019, Egypt and Switzerland celebrated 40 years of international cooperation, where the longstanding partnership resulted in considerable achievements in several fields.

Over four decades, this partnership contributed to the implementation of 200 projects worth CHF 700m. However, and as in most places around the globe, 2020 started, posing an undoubtedly challenging atmosphere for the implementation of the scheduled and on-going activities. COVID-19 started spreading and everything came to a halt. Our daily life as we knew it started to forcibly take a new shape and form that we never experienced before. In order to ensure our business continuity and to uphold our commitments to the vulnerable communities we aim to support, we had to innovate and explore all possible avenues that would guarantee our help.

Even while drafting our cooperation programme 2021-2024 we had to adapt its foreseeable results to the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis on the economy and contribute to a “leave no one behind” approach.

Through our Office of International Cooperation’s projects and our reliable partners, the Embassy has intervened to alleviate the hardships of vulnerable communities in Egypt that have been affected by the pandemic.

A total amount of EGP 33m has been allocated to alleviate the negative socio-economic and medical consequences of COVID-19 on migrant, refugee, host, and other vulnerable or susceptible communities in Egypt.

A new project was even specifically designed to provide comprehensive medical services including mental health, as well as capacity development for the Ministry of Social Solidarity and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) personnel, to respond to the growing needs in light of the pandemic.

I will list our interventions through our partners in no specific order, but in a manner that portrays our outmost appreciation to their dedication and rapid response in altering the existing structures to accommodate the pressing needs.

For instance, we supported the Egyptian Red Crescent (ERC) in responding to the urgent social and medical needs of vulnerable migrants and Egyptian host communities through on-going awareness raising and dissemination of information, as well as direct assistance.

The assistance included provision of food vouchers, hygiene kits, and financial support to 130 families who were at risk of eviction due to loss of daily income. In addition to the provision of Personal Protective Equipment for ERC field staff including doctors and volunteers. The initiative covered four areas in Greater Cairo.

Through Save the Children we embarked on two different initiatives. The first one was a direct response to the impact of the pandemic on refugee and asylum-seeking communities in Egypt, where we distributed multiple-purpose cash assistance to 200 families in Greater Cairo.

While the second intervention, and as mentioned earlier, the only project specifically designed to mitigate the repercussions of the pandemic, aimed at providing migrants, refugees and Egyptian host communities with primary, secondary and emergency health care, mental health support, multipurpose cash as well as capacity development for the Ministry of Social Solidarity and the NCCM.

The project strengthened the capacities of 22 public health clinics and four public hospitals in Greater Cairo, Damietta, and Alexandria in order to absorb the flux of cases and provide better access to quality health services. The project also covered the distribution of Personal Protective Equipment PPE to health workers.

Caritas has also been supporting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Alexandria and Damietta during the pandemic and quickly responded to their needs through the provision of emergency cash assistance to 650 individuals, food baskets to 3,000 families, in addition to winterization assistance to 1,666 individuals.

When we speak of services rendered by refugees and migrants’ specific organisations, we cannot overlook the significant work implemented by St. Andrews Refugee Services (StARS). This, through our support, has served migrants and refugees in Greater Cairo through the distribution of emergency and medical grants to those in need along. This includes mobile phones and internet bundles to equip the Community Based Organisations (CBOs), and facilitate their work in line with Social Distancing guidelines.

We have also collaborated with Plan International to help build the capacity of and microfinance entrepreneurs from the host Egyptian, Migrant and Refugee communities in Alexandria and Damietta. The project altered its course to disburse special funds to the original beneficiaries struggling to maintain their businesses afloat due to the pandemic.

The embassy has also supported the “Provision of Protection and Humanitarian Assistance to Vulnerable Migrants in Greater Cairo” in collaboration with the Psycho-social training institute in Cairo (PSTIC), where over 7,000 individuals were assisted with COVID-19 related response.

The PSTIC Housing Team modified its criteria and assistance was provided to 3000 people in two months only. The helpline continue to respond to emergencies and give needed information and referral 24-7! Helpline Responders offered COVID-19 awareness to every caller.

Notably, one of our partners had to shift their on-the ground activities to provide mental health and psycho-social support to migrants, refugees and host Egyptian communities who were emotionally and psychologically affected by the pandemic. It is no other than ‘Médecins Du Monde’ (MdM), who also extended the service to include medics, paramedics and recovered cases.

Our Potable Water Management Programme (PWMP) has also undertaken several activities for children, adolescents and community members in order to support the local communities of Awada in Aswan in dealing with the pandemic.

More than 400 leaflets were distributed by PWMP promoters for households entailing awareness measures. The project also provided the Aswan Water and Sanitation Company (ASWC) with 600 copies to be distributed in different branches and plants.

In addition, a social media campaign was conducted with messages and videos related to hygiene and public health related to COVID-19 measures and precautions. Students were also engaged through a competition by submitting drawings, videos, articles, among other ideas to stimulate water conservation and personal hygiene.

Also, students who were interested in hand-made products were encouraged to produce a face mask that is safe for the use in controlling the spread of the virus and is made from materials that are available in Aswan. 

Last but not least, we collaborated with the German Development Agency and the EU to assist the Minister of environment issue protective equipment for 11,000 employees. This initiative is part of the ongoing joint project on National Solid Waste Management that aims to contribute to a sustainable environment and the protection of national resources in Egypt.

Swiss Ambassador to Egypt, Paul Garnier

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