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Covid-19: authorities impose restrictions in refugee camps

Monday April 13 2020

Refugees in Hagadera camp in Daadab.

Refugees at Hagadera camp in Daadab. PHOTO |FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

AGGREY MUTAMBO
By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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Hosting some of the highest number of refugees in the world, the countries mainly in the eastern and Horn of Africa have suspended their registration desks, supplied protective gear, limited visitations to the camps and created isolation beds within the camp clinics. Some countries have offered new shelters for newcomers.

In Kenya, the government said all camp visits are now banned and that it was working with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other relief agencies to expand the number of quarantine centres targeting refugees.

Mr Kodeck Makori, the head of the Refugee Affairs Secretariat told the Nation the programme will also involve taking awareness campaigns to refugees.

“We have scaled down all interactive activities in all our registration centres this is meant to curtail movement of refugees,” he said yesterday.

“We are also advising our staff to constantly follow all guidelines as issued by the government of Kenya and report any suspected Covid-19 cases through the ministry of health. “More importantly, refugees are always reminded to stay home until further notice.”

Kenya is now the third biggest refugee-hosting country in Africa after Uganda and Ethiopia.

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It hasting 492, 802 refugees. Many of them are in Dadaab (297, 197) and Kakuma (194, 914) and Nairobi (80, 691). They are mostly from Somalia and South Sudan.

By the time coronavirus came to the shores of Kenya, some 52, 864 asylum seekers were waiting for their details to be processed, even though just 764 people had made the application this year.

Traditionally, the 1951 Refugee Convention bars signatory countries from expelling people coming in to seek asylum. But all the countries in the neighbourhood have shut down their borders and stopped new registrations.

However, for countries like Uganda, all people who had already arrived in the country seeking refuge would be allowed to stay as long as they don’t travel.

Yesterday, several groups of South Sudan civil society groups appealed to the Kenyan government to send more protective gear to the camps, saying what was sent their last week was not sufficient.

“We appreciate the preventive measures taken by the government of Kenya to ensure life-saving of our refugees in the camps,” said Daniel Y Deng and Michael Tut from the Paraplegic and Disabled Empowerment Organisation (PADEO) and the South Sudan Peace Coalition and Conflict Transformation and Development, respectively.

“We are appealing to the UNHCR, county and national governments to help in distributing masks, soap, hand sanitisers and more food rations,” they added in a statement, calling for particular attention to the elderly, children and the disabled.

The UNHCR in its global Emergency Appeal wants to raise some $255 million (Sh25.6 billion “for life-saving interventions and preparations in response to COVID-19.”

The Horn of Africa countries including Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, South Sudan and Uganda will benefit from the $15 million. These countries have about 5 million refugees in total.

“While bolstering primary-care capacity, including isolation facilities at camp level, we are concerned that health systems across the region are in need of support, particularly to referral hospitals and intensive care units, in case the virus rapidly spreads,” the UNCHR Bureau for the East and Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes said last week.