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Refugees Defy COVID-19 Safety Measures in Uganda

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Ugandan authorities say refugees are defying safety measures set up to control the spread of COVID-19. Uganda has at least 52 confirmed COVID-19 cases and is currently under a lockdown that saw the government suspend admission of new refugees for a month. Now authorities say they are going to discuss new ways to enforce the restrictions.   

Authorities in Uganda are finding it difficult to get residents of refugee settlements to adhere to safety measures meant to control the spread of COVID-19.

Ugandan police and other security forces chase people off the streets to avoid unrest, as part of measures to prevent the potential spread of coronavirus disease, in Kampala, Uganda, March 26, 2020.
FILE – Ugandan police and other security forces chase people off the streets to avoid unrest, as part of measures to prevent the potential spread of coronavirus disease, in Kampala, March 26, 2020.

To date, Uganda has recorded fewer than 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases. To keep the number down, last month President Yoweri Museveni closed all borders and suspended movement of refugees into the country.

Titus Jogoo is the Adjumani Regional Refugee desk officer. He tells VOA via Whatsapp that while authorities have managed to halt movement through both official border posts and informal crossings, the internal movement of refugees remains a challenge.

“They are now on cash. So, they receive cash and they have to run to the markets to buy food. We also have issues of internal settlement movement,” he said. “We have tried to talk to them but they continue moving, going to relatives, checking on this and this. And of course, we still have boda boda [Motor] cyclists deep there in the refugee settlements. They have not heed to these instructions.”

Jogoo says they’ve stepped up measures to ensure refugees know how to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We have translated them in the most commonly used languages among the South Sudanese. We have engaged public address systems. We have engaged people on boda boda’s with recorded spot messages om COVID-19,” he said.

Uganda is host to more than 1.4 million refugees, the largest such population in Africa.

Map of Kampala Uganda

Thirteen districts in Uganda host refugees from countries such as South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda and Kenya.    

Uganda’s State Minister for Disaster Preparedness Musa Ecweru says the refugees may need some extra persuasion to accept the restrictions.

“Our people come from countries where there have not been governments. So, to submit to authority takes time. (I) Am going to discuss with the High Commissioner today. We want to send a team to go and make sure that they are talked to and then the enforcement starts,” he said.

But if there is an outbreak in refugee areas, says Ecweru, the government has prepared the isolation centers that were set up earlier to handle potential Ebola outbreaks.

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