How COVID-19 affected my life - conversations with refugees

COVID-19 has disrupted our lives and changed the world as we know it. For most people it has had dramatic consequences – not least for refugees or people affected by displacement. Hear conversations with refugees from Syria and South Sudan and their reflections on how the pandemic has affected their lives.

Susan is a South Sudanese refugee, a single mother of six dependents and a women’s activist. Israa, is a young Syrian refugee living in Jordan with her family. Below you can listen to conversations between them and DRC employee, Ayo Degett, where they talk about their concerns, hopes, fears, doubts and coping strategies in times of a pandemic.

Businesses are down. Everything is down. So that means that whatever you had saved, that’s all you can survive on and if you don’t have anything, that means you have nothing

Susan, community leader, women's rights activist and refugee from South Sudan

Susan: struggling to feed her children

Susan is a South Sudanese community leader who is living in a refugee settlement in Uganda during a COVID-19 lockdown. Things are hard. She is worried, exhausted and must sell onions and sugar at the roadside to feed her four children and two foster children. Only a few months earlier, she received a decent income from her work with one of the NGOs in the camp and even had the opportunity to travel to Geneva to join the Global Refugee Forum in December 2019. But now she is struggling to make ends meet.

Susan: Resettlement in times of a pandemic

Eight months later, Susan is at a very different place – mentally but also physically. Along with her four children and two foster children, she was selected for resettlement at the end of 2020. With only three days’ notice, she receives asylum in Sweden and is booked on a plane to Stockholm. In this conversation, she has just arrived in a country that is new and foreign to her, and she explains her concerns about leaving the refugee settlement and thereby her responsibilities as a community leader and a prominent activist for women’s rights in the refugee settlement and beyond. At the same time, she is excited about the opportunities that her children will now have in Sweden. Hear Susan talk about surviving COVID-19 lockdowns in Uganda and her exciting first steps in Scandinavia.

It is God’s plan, and I am happy to be here! But my heart still beats for my country. Those women who could not speak, I was the voice for them.

Susan, community leader, women's rights activist and refugee from South Sudan

Israa: Economic hardship creates tensions at home

Israa is a Syrian refugee in Jordan who lives in Amman. She normally works as a translator for foreign organisations and journalists, but since COVID-19-related travel restrictions and local lockdowns were put into place in early 2020, her income has dried up. Today, she lives in a flat with her mother and father, and her family is struggling to meet their basic needs. Even with the help of relatives abroad, they still are forced to skip meals and forego other essentials, fraying tempers in the family. The lockdown and isolation in the house reminds Israa of the uncertainty and restrictions of resources during her last months in Syria and on the family’s anxiety for her brothers and sisters who are still remaining behind. However, Israa is also optimistic and sees the ‘disruptor of ordinary life’ as a possibility that some things might change for the better. She sees it as an opportunity to approach one of the biggest humanitarian donors in the country to open up a master’s programme for her and her class mates. Israa dreams of studying at the university, andis not shy of reaching out to high level donors to remind them of their mandate to support educations for young Syrian refugees like her.

Maybe it is time to change! To change everything.

Israa, Syrian refugee in Jordan

About the conversations

Ayo Degett is a research fellow on participation in the Global Protection Unit at the Danish Refugee Council, DRC.

These podcasts are part of a larger research project (2018-2022) investigating refugee’s access to participation in humanitarian action through ethnographic research among South Sudanese, Syrian and Sudanese refugees in Uganda and Jordan.

Due to the nature of the project, Ayo is in close contact with refugees in settlements and urban settings where some have expressed a desire to communicate their reflections about the current situation to a wider audience.