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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.

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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  Africans cautioned against accepting  inaccurate information about COVID 19 prevention, treatment

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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Human trafficking: PJI  urges proper trauma management for returnees

The Pathfinder Justice Initiative (PJI), a Non-Governmental Organisation, has called for proper trauma care for migrant returnees to prevent them from becoming vulnerable to subsequent trafficking.

Evon Benson-Idahosa, the Executive Director, PJI, made the call at a Rehabilitation Workshop for Providers Serving Survivors of Human Trafficking held in Benin on Thursday.

The workshop was organised by PJI and funded by INSighT- Building Capacity to deal with human trafficking and transit routes to Nigeria, Italy and Sweden.

Benson-Idahosa said that a majority of returnee-migrants usually undergo different traumatic situations and needed to be properly rehabilitated before being integrated back into the society. She noted that if the migrant returnees were not properly rehabilitated, they would not be able to put into good use any form of skills acquisition or empowerment received.

“Providers serving survivors should know how to handle traumatised victims because many of them, especially females, have been raped and have gone through horrible experiences during their trafficking journey.

READ  My boss sexually harrasses, starves me- 28-yr old Nigerian trafficked to Oman

“The providers should know that there are best practices in terms of handling trafficked victims; they need to use a survivor centred approach to prioritise the needs of the victims,” she said.

She called on the government at all levels to partner more with NGOs on providing best traumatic care for returned migrants in the country.

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How Nigerian-American police officer burst human trafficking syndicate in US

A retried Nigerian American Police officer, Samuel Balogun  narrated how he  burst a human trafficking syndicate that specialized in using minors for prostitution.

“My biggest accomplishment was bursting a human trafficking crime,” Balogun said.

Giving details of how he executed the task,  the dark skinned retired police officer said: “ There was a guy that was using minors for prostitution on the internet.  I have an accent and when I speak people know I am an African. So, I had to go undercover and had to call the guy on the internet.  I said ‘ hey! what is going on, I am in town. I am a truck driver and I want some girls.’ I asked  how old? He said the younger they are, the more money. I said about 15 to 16 years. He said ok.  I asked  how many he could bring and he replied two. He said which hotel was I and I gave the name to him. He told me to hang up and  he called back  the hotel. He subsequently called me and asked if I was there and I said yes. He said he would be there in 20 minutes.

“We were waiting for him to come but he was smart too. He dropped the girls down the street and made them walk to the room. The girls asked how much I was ready to pay and wanted to take off their clothes but I said not yet.  In the next room were officers listening to our conversation. When I make a signal, that means it is time for them to come in. but before you make the signal, you have to make sure they have mentioned the price, they have given the reason why they were there, so it doesn’t look like you are entrapping them.  When I made the signal, the officers burst in and arrested everybody including me.

Thereafter, Balogun said  the police  processed the girls and after that, “they said look, you are minors and we know somebody is pushing you to do this. Now we don’t want to arrest you but tell us how to get to the boss.  The girls cooperated and  made as if they were leaving. When the man pulled up to pick them up, and that was how we arrested  him. That stopped a lot of those crimes.”

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Balogun said he was in Nigeria to bring his wealth of experience to bear on the disturbing security situation in the country. “ I am trying to bring back  my experience as a  police officer in the states to Nigeria. When you look at the #endsars period, the performance of the police was something that hurt my feelings. How can we make it better? How can we make the police job something that people will look with respect  and want to join?”

He hinted that his  security firm is involved in training not only police officers but “ I also train private security companies. I am in touch with a lot of private security companies in Nigeria.  There is another concept which Nigeria is embracing right now.

“It is called community policing. In the states it is called neighbourhood policing or community policing. It works in a way that in every street, there would be a police officer that lives in that neighbourhood.   You get to know the people and the people know you. In some apartments, they will give you a discount just for the police officer to be there because they know once a police officer is living there, the police car is outside and the crime level will reduce. People are more likely to talk to that officer because they know him. They are more able to tell him’ hey we know who committed that crime.’  For every crime, you need people to tell you what happened. You can have all the gadgets but if people are not talking, you can’t solve the crime.”

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He further said: “I am training police officers, security companies and executive protection. What my security company is doing is to free the police officers from attachment to chiefs, politicians and all that.  We train civilians to represent those officers so that they can go back to the street and do their normal jobs.  We have what we call executive protection/training. We have people that follow the president.  We can train you on how to be efficient and sometimes using less force, description tactics.”

Further expatiating on what his security firm does, the soft spoken officer said: “What my company is trying to do is to bring people to the table.  We are trying to train companies that there is a better way of security where we can teach you how to defend yourself, how to prepare for any emergency, and how to use less force. I have a guy, a navy seal that worked for the United States of America. You will be amazed about what he can do. He can disarm you in a minute even when you come with AK 47.    I am also bringing Hostage Negotiation, people that can talk to you when ransom has to be paid. In the US, we call it Hostage Negotiation.  They can talk to these people, and know their psyche. It is a full package. When you come  to my firm, you can see the whole spectrum  and choose.”

As a vastly travelled person, Blagun said: “I travel a lot and in all the African nations is where you see officers with AK 47. They said it is more intimidating. Criminals use AK 47 in America too but we still don’t carry it.  Is that the right weapon for the police officers, I leave that question open. “

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On the attitude of the Nigerian authorities his plans, he said: “I have talked to a lot of people in higher positions. In some places I don’t want to mention, I have got good responses.  My firm has done some things with certain private firms and the police. I have dealt with some highly placed security firms. So, this is not my first time here.  We are   looking at having training in Sheraton around July/August this year. It is going to be a big one. I am bringing a retired FBI agent, a navy seal, a retired marine , myself and may be two other officers.

“This is my country, I am proud of it. I am sad sometimes when you look at the security aspect of it.  With my experience, I am trying to make it a better place.  It has always been my passion to come back home. I am retired and don’t really need to work again. My benefits are okay untill I die.  But why die with all this experience when I can pass it to the next person.”

 

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Hundreds of thousands of people leave Britain due to pandemic

 

Hundreds of thousands of people have left Britain as a fallout  of the pandemic on the economy, according to a study released yesterday.

There is an “unprecedented exodus” of workers born outside Britain, researchers at London’s Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence said.

“It seems that much of the burden of job losses during the pandemic has fallen on non-UK workers and has manifested itself in return migration, rather than unemployment,” said the authors.

The study is based on labour market data.

The trend was particularly notable in London, where one in five residents was born abroad.

The capital’s population has fallen by 700,000, the study said, adding that nationwide, the figure could be more than 1.3 million.

If these numbers are accurate, this is the largest decline in Britain’s population since World War II, according to the study.

No evidence suggests that similar numbers of British people who live abroad are returning to Britain.

However, this could be a temporary trend, the researchers said, noting that workers from abroad might return after the pandemic.

The British economy depends on workers from abroad and it is not only threatened by migration due to the pandemic.

Many industries fear the loss of skilled workers due to Britain’s departure from the European Union and stricter migration laws.

A further trend in 2021 is also causing concern, described as a “baby bust” by consultancy PwC, which said many couples were postponing having children due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

This could lead to the lowest birth rate since 1900, PwC said in early January.

READ  Nigeria Immigration intercepts irregular Cameroonian migrants

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