The exceptional year of COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of uncertainty and unexpected challenges. Despite these challenges, we managed to adapt to the new situation and continue our operations both in Finland and abroad – and we even managed to expand our operations abroad to a completely new country of operation, Ethiopia.
The number of displaced people rose to a record high number as nearly 80 million people were forced to leave their homes. The COVID-19 pandemic drove the already vulnerable refugees into even greater distress. The closure of state borders and travel restrictions made it significantly more difficult to apply for asylum and collapsed the resettlement of refugees to 50 % lower than in the previous year. The pandemic also significantly reduced the number of quota refugees and applications for asylum and residence permits in Finland.
We found alternative ways to implement projects in Finnish Refugee Council’s countries of operations in Uganda, Myanmar, Turkey and Ethiopia. In our Adult Education projects, group sizes were reduced, and the importance of safety distances and good hygiene was emphasized. With all the restrictions caused by the virus, our vocational training in Myanmar suffered the most, with schools remaining closed until the end of the year.
We supported work combating COVID-19 by organizing large-scale hygiene training and distributing hygiene and protective equipment. In Myanmar, we supplied local hospitals with respiratory protective equipment, protective gloves and other hospital supplies that were in desperate need. Due to declining food security, we supported vegetable growing through training and distributing seeds to families in Uganda. Our work against the virus reached more than 280,000 people living in refugee camps and settlements.
The exceptional year also caused changed our domestic projects in Finland. With the exception of personal guidance, almost all activities were implemented remotely online. Remote training and meetings were a success as we reached an even larger audience through them. During the year, 505 young immigrant adults received guidance and counseling through us, and 250 immigrants and asylum seekers received support from our volunteers. We trained 67 peer counselors and published new education material.
In 2020 we celebrated the 55th anniversary of Finnish Refugee Council. In honor of the celebration, we released What would Helvi do? -campaign to remember and respect the lifework of Helvi Sipilä, the founder of FRC. The campaign is a reminder that people like Helvi and work to help those who are forced to flee are still needed today – perhaps more than ever. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also celebrated its 70th anniversary. UNHCR has been promoting the rights and well-being of refugees around the world since 1950.