Uganda and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) have placed one of the largest refugee camps in Africa, Kyangwali, under lockdown after a jump in confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The refugees there say they are feeling the pinch.
Kyangwali, in southwestern Uganda, is home to more than 120,000 refugees. The lockdown is due to a rising number of coronavirus cases among both aid workers and refugees.
Rebecca Noel, a Congolese national and mother of two, has lived at the settlement in Kikuube district for 11 years. To supplement the monthly $6 cash for food money given to her and others by the World Food Program, Noel says she does casual labor and trades in shoes and clothes. With little food to put on the table, Noel says she too could be at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
"Life is hard. Because we are under a lockdown and we cannot leave,” Noel said. “We may get corona because when you and the children get hungry - as an adult you could persevere, but when the child cries you just have to get out and find food so the children don’t starve and die.”
According to a statement by the Ugandan government and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 40 refugees and humanitarian workers at Kyangwali have tested positive for the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, and two refugees have died.
Musa Ecweru, Uganda’s state minister for refugees, says with the rising numbers, the settlement dwellers have to manage amid the circumstances.
“There have been cases of COVID-19 patients there, including a death. They are in Uganda and all the operating procedures that are given by the minister of health apply to all people who reside in this jurisdiction called Uganda. There are certainly going to be difficulties. There are certainly going to be inconveniences but it’s for their own good,” Ecweru said.
Uganda currently has 2,928 cases with 30 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the infection across the globe.
Yonna Tukundane, the UNHCR social media associate in Uganda, says more than 600,000 face masks have been already produced by refugee tailors and distributed to the communities.
“Critical and lifesaving activities continue to take place in the settlement to provide assistance to the most vulnerable. We began local procurement of an additional 860,000 reusable face masks for immediate distribution to refugees across the country, especially in Kyangwali,” Tukundane said.
The infections come as the World Food Program warns of further food ration cuts for refugees in east Africa. In Uganda, the WFP says, to provide full rations for 1.2 million refugees in the settlements from now until the end of the year, it needs $47.4 million immediately.