Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Refugees in Uganda have lost their employment and source of income and have had to cut the number of meals that they have in a day due to the COVID-19 pandemic according to a report published by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
The report which shares findings from a survey of 1,400 refugees displaced in 14 countries shows that while the entire world has been affected by COVID-19, refugees in many countries are in a far worse position.
The findings from Uganda show that due to the national lockdown that was instituted to forestall the spread of the disease and other measures such as the closure of weekly markets, the closure of all points of entry accompanied by the ban on public transport led to the loss of income of 71 percent in the respondents interviewed.
Due to the loss of employment or jobs, 24 percent of refugees were forced to borrow money while 55 percent were altogether forced to reduce the number of meals that they have. From two meals, many of them had to resort to having one meal a day.
Since the impact of the pandemic is being felt globally, the survey shows that the number of refugees receiving remittances from family also declined. It reports 48 percent of the refugees interviewed said they had experienced a decline in money sent.
In addition to this, the loss of incomes has left many urban refugees with rent arrears and many of them facing eviction. According to the report, as many as 400 urban refugees live in the areas of Katwe and parts of Old Kampala.
Sephora Uzele Murogo, an 18 year old Congelese refugee at Nakivale says life has not been the same for many refugees due to COVID-19. She says that in the settlement where they live, many of them have had to get used to living on reduced rations of food.
“The big part of contribution for food for refugees comes from the United Nations but due to COVID-19, the food ration has been reduced because they have been seriously hit by COVID-19 and they are not able to contribute enough to cover all the budget,” Murogo said.
A World Food Program report says that about half of a sampled population of 212 refugees in Kampala lost over 75 percent of household income. The proportion of households without an income earner increased from 31 percent before the pandemic to 72 percent at the time of the survey.
Jan Egeland, secretary general of NRC says vulnerable communities that already have little are facing more risk with effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The world’s most vulnerable communities are in a dangerous downward spiral. Already forced from their homes by violence, often with limited rights to work or access to government services, the economic impact of the pandemic is pushing them to catastrophe,” he said.
The report predicts that as nothing serious is done to prioritize the needs of refugees, they might go forgotten since money normally gotten from governments to support them is expected to reduce as they focus their spending on battling the pandemic.
To stop this from happening, the report recommends that G20 countries should prioritize discussions on economic support to refugees, internally displaced people and host governments at the the November 2020 summit. Other recommendations include government and NGOs offering cash assistance to refugee households that have lost incomes due to the pandemic.
Egeland adds that rich countries have the ability to stop the calamity that awaits refugees in many parts of the world.
“An urgent scale-up in aid is needed but humanitarian assistance alone cannot fix this. The rich countries of the G20 and international financial institutions must put displaced and conflict-affected communities at the centre of national and international economic responses to Covid-19. Without urgent action, this crisis will spiral out of control,” he said.