ISLAMABAD: The European Union (EU) is providing 10 million euros to significantly boost the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assistance for Afghan refugees and their host communities in Pakistan. The funding will focus on mitigating the short- and medium-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. With this funding, the UNHCR will expand its health response as well as improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities in refugee and host communities, according to an official statement issued on Tuesday. Another important component of the new project will be implementing activities that help protect and empower vulnerable Afghan refugees and host communities, including through livelihood opportunities. The three-year project will be implemented across the country and is expected to benefit some 370,000 Afghan refugees and host communities. The Ambassador of the EU Delegation to Pakistan, Androulla Kaminara, and UNHCR’s Representative in Pakistan, Noriko Yoshida, signed the agreement at a ceremony on Monday. The agreement coincides with the quadrennial Afghanistan Conference held in Geneva, which is intended to present an important opportunity for the Afghan government and the international community to commit to common objectives for promoting sustainable development, prosperity and peace in Afghanistan. At the signing ceremony, Kaminara said: “As the world faces a second surge of Covid-19, it is clearer than ever that we must assist the most vulnerable and the most in need. We are glad to partner with the UNHCR in assisting the Afghan refugee community, which is generously hosted in Pakistan, as well as the Pakistani host communities.” Placing the support for refugees in a larger political context, the envoy underlined: “The European Union has reaffirmed its strong support to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process which ultimately would ensure safety, fundamental rights and prosperity for all Afghans and allow refugees to return to their homeland in safety and dignity.” Noriko Yoshida, the UNHCR representative in Pakistan, welcomed the EU’s contribution and said such support amid the current Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates the EU’s commitment to “leaving no one behind”. “This support is truly significant. At a time when it is most urgently needed, the EU will help make a difference in the lives of so many refugees and Pakistani host communities impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said. She said that the UNHCR’s overall emergency response is in support of efforts by the Pakistani government to prevent and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. She added that the UNHCR has been advocating for the inclusion of refugees in the government’s coronavirus prevention and response plan. Since July 2018, the EU has contributed 37 million euros from its development budget and 10 million euros from its humanitarian resources to support Afghan refugees and their host communities, in particular through UNHCR’s regional programmes. In May 2020, the EU announced a 150 million euros package to support Pakistan’s efforts in addressing the short-term and long-term public health and socio-economic effects of Covid-19, including this new funding of 10 million euros for the UNHCR. This funding will be channelled towards three sectors: health, WASH and social protection. In the health sector, it will boost health initiatives by helping to provide personal protective equipment, medical supplies and other relief items to health facilities in support of refugees and host communities. Community outreach on the prevention and response to Covid will also be strengthened. In the WASH sector, the EU’s contribution will help enable the UNHCR to upgrade or construct facilities such as toilets, handwash basins and water pumps in schools, health centres and communal facilities in or close to refugee villages – benefiting both refugees and Pakistanis. In terms of social protection, the assistance will contribute to the UNHCR’s emergency cash programme for the most vulnerable registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The one-time cash assistance mitigates the impact of the coronavirus pandemic by helping refugees meet their basic needs. In addition, the project – covering a three-year period – aims to support the Covid-19 recovery through medium-term interventions, such as income-generating activities and technical and vocational skills training. This will ultimately help provide new skill sets to both refugees and their host communities.