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Uganda lifts COVID-19 closure admits refugees escaping escalating violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

By Duniya Aslam Khan in Zombo district, Uganda

She is sick, she is frail and separated from her family. Emmanuelle Ochaya, 56, has been sleeping in a scanty makeshift hut, in the middle of a forest on cold, bare ground for almost one month. The nighttime temperature here drops to 10°C and her only belongings are the clothes she is wearing.
Emmanuelle is among an estimated 45,000 of people who fled attacks in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that erupted in May. According to community representatives, armed groups began a violent rampage in War-Palara chiefdom, Mahagi Territory, including killings, sexual violence and looting.

“On my way, I saw people being killed, their belongings and houses burnt to ashes, nothing was left untouched.”

When Emmanuelle’s village, Zulu, was attacked by armed militia, houses were set ablaze, her neighbours were killed and she ran for her life. “On my way, I saw people being killed, their belongings and houses burnt to ashes, nothing was left untouched,” she said in a frail voice.

Emmanuelle was part of a group of people who reportedly gathered at the Ugandan border with the DRC seeking safety. They got stranded in a remote and inaccessible area as the borders between the two countries remained closed due to a COVID-19 lockdown that halted the admission of new asylum-seekers into the country.

READ  2,000 people lost their lives at sea attempting to reach Europe in 2020

On Wednesday, Uganda temporarily re-opened two border crossing points, through Guladjo and Mount Zeu in Zombo district, to provide a safe haven with access to life-saving aid and protection to those who remained. Some 1,500 asylum-seekers crossed into Uganda. The border will remain open until Friday once the humanitarian operation is complete and then close again until further notice.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and partners, in coordination with the Office of the Prime Minister, the Health Ministry and the district local government, have been working around the clock in Zombo district to strengthen reception capacities, including quarantine facilities, at the border and ensure adequate levels of emergency assistance are available.

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All new arrivals undergo security and health screening at the border. Vulnerable individuals like Emmanuelle are fast-tracked for assistance.

Asylum-seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo wait for health screening near the border in Zombo, Uganda.

Most asylum-seekers who arrived on the first day of border opening were women, children and older people. They were hungry and tired. Many also arrived in a frail state having been in a precarious situation, hiding in the bush for the past several weeks without sufficient access to food, clean drinking water and shelter.

The group will initially be quarantined at Zewdu Farm Institute, 13 kilometres from the border crossing, which can accommodate some 6,000 people. UNHCR and partners have installed tents, health screening areas, toilets, handwashing facilities and water tanks.

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Following the mandatory quarantine period of 14 days, in line with national guidelines and protocols, asylum-seekers will be transported to existing refugee settlements. Emmanuelle does not know what the future holds for her in Uganda, but she hopes she will get medical care and enough food to eat. Not so long ago, she was with her extended family of eight children and 26 grandchildren. All of them were working their land and growing their own food.

Today she will join a group of asylum-seekers who will soon receive hot meals, blankets to keep warm and a tent to sleep in.

“The needs are huge and growing.”

With 1.4 million refugees, Uganda is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa. The arrival of new asylum-seekers is happening at a time when the refugee response is facing multiple challenges due to underfunding, including severe food ration cuts.

With 870 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Uganda, including 52 refugees, UNHCR has been working with the Government and partners to construct and strengthen quarantine and isolation facilities and increase handwashing supplies and availability of maks as part of the response plan.

READ  IOM provides 40,000 surgical gloves, 4,800 surgical masks other equipment to support Coronavirus response in China

Joel Boutroue, UNHCR’s Representative in Uganda, welcomed and commended the country’s decision to open it’s doors yet again for people fleeing for their lives.

“It proves that even in the midst of a global crisis like COVID-19, there are ways to manage border restrictions in a manner which respects international human rights and refugee protection standards,” he said.

Many of UNHCR’s transit and reception facilities across the country have been converted into institutional quarantine centres for the district, offering additional support for hundreds of Ugandans and refugees on a daily basis.

“The needs are huge and growing,” added Boutroue.

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IOM launches open South America portal

International Organisation of Migration (

Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open South America, available in SpanishEnglish and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.

The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.

The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.

READ  IOM provides 40,000 surgical gloves, 4,800 surgical masks other equipment to support Coronavirus response in China

Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.

“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.

“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.

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29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.

About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.

Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.

He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.

Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.

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“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”

International Organisation of Migration (

Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.

“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.

Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.

The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.

READ  2,000 people lost their lives at sea attempting to reach Europe in 2020

 

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FG condemns killing of Nigerian footballer in UK

Kelvin

The Federal government has condemned the alleged killing of a Nigerian Footballer, Kelvin Igweani, by the UK police.

Recall that Igweani, a Nigerian Footballer, was shot dead by officers, who attended a call out to a house, where a child was found with serious injuries.

Reacting, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), in Abuja on Wednesday described the incident as very unfortunate,and sad.

Dabiri-Erewa condoled with the family of the deceased and the Nigerian communities in the UK while praying that God grants rest to the soul of the departed.

“We call on the UK government for a thorough and proper investigation to be carried out on the incident,” the statement added.

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READ  NIgeria's human trafficking fact sheet by Pathfinders
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