Africa

Uganda grapples with refugee crisis amid COVID-19

As the world marked World Refugee Day on Saturday, thousands of Congolese are stranded at the Ugandan border seeking to enter the East African country after deadly tribal clashes back home.

Uganda, according to government officials, has agreed to open its border entry point in the north western part of the country for three days starting from Monday to allow in an estimated 5,000 Congolese from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Uganda had closed all its border entry points to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). 

“We have received a letter from the Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees under the Office of the Prime Minister to host the refugees in our district,” Andrew Kajoingi, resident district commissioner for Zombo, told Xinhua by telephone on Friday. 

“We have just had a meeting with the health ministry officials and those from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and agreed on the standard operating measures,” Kajoingi said. 

He said the ministry will set up COVID-19 testing centres to screen the refugees.

Uganda, according to the United Nations (UN) refugee agency, has some 1.4 million refugees, mostly from neighbouring South Sudan, the DRC and Burundi. 

Hilary Onek, Uganda’s minister of disaster preparedness and refugees, said in a statement issued here that the country now faces the uphill task of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the refugee settlements. 

Onek said 44 refugees have so far tested positive for the virus and 872 others have been under quarantine in different refugee settlements across the country. 

Onek also said a health plan has been rolled out in the settlements to prevent the spread of the respiratory disease.

The Ugandan government has repurposed isolation centres and quarantine space in all the refugee settlements to manage any suspected COVID-19 cases, Onek said. 

“The Ministry of Health, the Office of the Prime Minister and district COVID-19 taskforce teams have initiated mechanisms to detect any likely occurrence of coronavirus among the refugees,” the minister said. 

Onek said that efforts are being made to ensure continuous accessible critical services, such as food, health services and other forms of assistance. -Xinhua

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