1. Home
  2. Africa

In the news: Uganda suspends refugee arrivals as coronavirus cases rise

‘This will greatly affect those seeking asylum, which goes against the policy and practice of Uganda.’

Women refugees cross the Busunga bridge
Women refugees cross the Busunga bridge at the Uganda-Congo border. (Martin Karimi/ECHO)

Uganda has announced measures to suspend the reception of new refugees and asylum seekers for the next 30 days, as confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 14 in the East African country.

Transit and reception centres will be closed with immediate effect, the government said, while flights in and out of the country have been grounded and borders sealed since Sunday following a first case of the viral disease.

“Under emergency situations, refugee law and practice can be suspended,” Dismas Nkunda, executive director of Atrocities Watch Africa, told The New Humanitarian. “But, of course, this will greatly affect those seeking asylum, which goes against the policy and practice of Uganda.”

Uganda has been widely praised for its “open door” policy for refugees – it currently hosts some 1.4 million, mainly from neighbouring South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Duniya Aslam Khan, a spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, in Uganda, said there aren’t enough intensive care units and ventilation equipment in the country’s underfunded refugee settlements.

Pauline Byakika, a professor of infectious diseases at Makere University College of Health Sciences, added that health facilities in the camps are crowded and social distancing measures would be hard to enforce.

“It’s a very high risk to imagine that you are going to manage patients in those health facilities,” Byakika said.

Earlier this month, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said governments should avoid measures that “result in closure of avenues to asylum, or of forcing people to return to situations of danger”.

“In these challenging times, let us not forget those who are fleeing war and persecution,” Grandi said.

– Samuel Okiror

Subscribe to our coronavirus newsletter to stay up to date with our coverage.

Share this article

It was The New Humanitarian’s investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that uncovered sexual abuse by aid workers during the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo and led the World Health Organization to launch an independent review and reform its practices.

This demonstrates the important impact that our journalism can have. 

But this won’t be the last case of aid worker sex abuse. This also won’t be the last time the aid sector has to ask itself difficult questions about why justice for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation has been sorely lacking. 

We’re already working on our next investigation, but reporting like this takes months, sometimes years, and can’t be done alone.

The support of our readers and donors helps keep our journalism free and accessible for all. Donations mean we can keep holding power in the aid sector accountable, and shine a light on similar abuses. 

Become a member today and support independent journalism

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.