In the three days that Uganda opened its borders to refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, over 3,000 Congolese refugees arrived, fleeing violence in Ituri province of the DRC.
They are a part of a larger group of approximately 45,000 people, according to local DRC authorities, who had attempted to flee towards the Ugandan border with the DRC shortly after deadly clashes erupted between armed militia groups on May 17 and 18.
While some have been able to return to their areas of origin, others had remained close to the border, unable to cross for more than a month due to closure of borders on the Uganda side to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Sixty-five per cent of the new arrivals are children. The group also included 33 pregnant women, two of whom were immediately taken to Zeu Health Center III last week, where they each gave birth – one to a baby girl and one to a boy.
The Ugandan Health Ministry has been conducting sample COVID-19 testing, with the first 570 samples returning negative. Refugees have received doses of Vitamin A and vaccinations against cholera, measles, rubella and polio.
Following the mandatory quarantine period of 14 days, in line with national guidelines and protocols, they will be transported to existing refugee settlements.
“UNHCR welcomes the decision by the Government of Uganda to allow the group of refugees to enter the country and receive life-saving aid and protection,” UNHCR spokesperson Charlie Yaxley said.
“This effort demonstrates how, through quarantines, health screenings and other measures, States can uphold their obligations under international law during the pandemic while at the same time limiting potential transmission of the virus,” Yaxley added.
“With over 1,000 COVID-19 cases in Uganda, UNHCR continues to support the Government with its COVID-19 response, by constructing and strengthening quarantine and isolation facilities and increasing handwashing supplies and availability of masks,” the spokesperson continued.
“Many of our transit and reception facilities across the country have been converted into quarantine centres, where we are supporting hundreds of Ugandans and refugees on a daily basis.”
However Yaxley said the refugee response in Uganda continues to face multiple challenges due to underfunding, including severe food ration cuts. UNHCR has received just 18% of the US$357 million required for its operation in Uganda in 2020.
In the immediate term, US$28 million is urgently needed to continue the current level of assistance to refugees in Uganda, including basic health services. UNHCR appeals for international solidarity to help Uganda uphold its commitments towards the Global Compact on Refugees and maintain its progressive refugee policy during these difficult times. (Source: UNHCR)