Uganda will not receive any asylum seekers for the next 30 days. But, the country will continue to receive and deliver critical services such as health, food and nutrition assistance in the refugee settlements with all possible and practicable precautions being taken, including during food and cash distributions during the COVID19 Pandemic.
The development was communicated in a joint statement released by government of Uganda represented by Musa Ecweru the State Minister for Relief and disaster preparedness together with Rosa Malango the United Nations Resident Coordinator on Wednesday morning, in the wake of the Novel CoronaVirus in Uganda, where 9 people already tested positive.
Uganda currently hosts the largest refugee population in Africa with 1,411,098 refugees & asylum seekers as of 29th Feb 2020.
The refugees are hosted in 13 districts of Adjumani, Arua, Moyo, Yumbe, Lamwo, Kiryandongo, Kyegeegwa, Kamwenge, Isingiro, Obongi, Koboko, Kikuube host refugees in 30 settlements plus 79,958 refugees in Kampala City.
Until 21st March 2020, Uganda was continuing to receive new refugees/asylum seekers daily and responds to protection and assistance needs of the new arrivals from mainly 3 countries; South Sudan, DRC and Burundi. In addition, transit and reception facilities along the boarders were receiving asylum seekers and facilitating screening and registration processes before relocation to the settlements.
However, whereas Uganda has an open door policy for refugees and asylum seekers, Uganda has suspended receiving of new arrivals with immediate effect for a period of 30 days. This is in response to the Presidential Directive to close all border points and stopping entry and exit of all persons to and from Uganda. “We would however like to stress that refugees who are already in the country will continue to receive the support and solidarity in line with the guidelines issued by Ministry of Health” the statement reads.
Currently, all Reception Centres at the borders, i.e Sebagoro, Nyakabande, Matanda, Elegu and Ntoroko as well as the Department of Refugees (DOR) offices in Kampala and Old Kampala Police Desk Refugee Office are to close with immediate effect for a period of 30 days.
“All Transit centers are to be decongested and later closed. All refugees and asylum seekers who are already in Uganda are welcome to stay, but there must be no movement of refugees and/ or asylum seekers from one settlement to another, no back and forth movements between Uganda and countries of origin for purposes of farming, checking on relatives etc are henceforth prohibited. Anyone who violates this guidance will be dealt with in accordance with the laws of Uganda” Ecweru says.
Since refugees live like Ugandans, all measures being implemented across the country like frequent hand washing, use of sanitisers, no mass gatherings, no communal, political and cultural activities, banning of mass gatherings, etc shall all apply in the settlements within Uganda, while noting that precautionary measures will be implemented for the delivery of critical services.
All schools in settlements and host communities remain closed. e. UNHCR and other UN agencies will provide hand sanitizers and other relevant protective gear to frontline staff in all refugee settlements. f. In addition, in liaison with the Settlement Commandants, hand washing facilities must be established in all Refugee Settlements including the Department of Refugees Offices in Kampala; Isolation Centers and quarantine spaces have been reactivated in all settlements to manage confirmed cases with the help of 5 medical teams in refugee hosting districts, relevant Implementing partners as well as local and international NGOs.
Ministry of Health in collaboration with RDOs and other stakeholders should institute, surveillance mechanisms to detect any likely occurrence of corona virus among the refugees and host community population. Refugee Desk Officers and Settlement Commandants must ensure that there is no crowding in the refugee settlements and critical service delivery is managed carefully to minimize risks.
UN agencies and their Partners will provide immediate screening gadgets, adequate Health Workers and facilitation; strengthen coordination of preparedness and response efforts for COVID-19 at National and Sub National levels; enhance capacity for surveillance, active case search, and timely investigation of all alert and suspected cases at health facility and community levels; enhance capacity at the points of entry addressing gaps in surveillance, water, sanitation and hygiene , monitoring and population mobility tracking.