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East and Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes Region SGBV – Regional Overview, March-July 2020

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Regional overview and SGBV trends

UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for the East and Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes (EHAGL) covers the countries of Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
The total displaced population in this region includes some 4.6 million refugees and asylum seekers, 8.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 469,000 refugee returnees. The region is affected by three refugee situations, the Burundi situation, the Somalia situation and the South Sudan situation and countries also host refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) situation. Signficant internally displaced populations are found in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. Voluntary repatriation of Burundi and Somali refugees is taking place, as well as self-organized return of South Sudanese refugees, although at a reduced pace due to the COVID -19 pandemic and other factors.
While to date there has been no large-scale outbreak in any of the approximately 100 refugee camps and settlements in the EHAGL region, the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve and has already had wide ranging socio-economic impacts on UNHCR’s populations of concern (POCs). As of 29 July 2020, there were over 60,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases reported among the general population in the eleven countries covered by UNHCR’s EHAGL Regional Bureau. Three countries account for 75% of the cases in the region: Kenya (19,000),
Ethiopia (15,000) and Sudan (12,000). The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among refugees had reached just over 200 by the end of July 2020, mainly in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda.
Governments have put in place various measures to contain the spread of the virus and are periodically announcing changes to movement and other restrictions. Those measures have affected the most vulnerable populations including refugee women and girls who became exposed to higher risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). While UNHCR and partners are working to strengthen SGBV information management systems across the region in order to collect comprehensive data on SGBV incidents, anecdotal data from several operations indicates an increase in SGBV in the first months of the pandemic.
Intimate partner violence was identified as the SGBV risk most likely to be exacerbated and indeed was reported to have increased, mainly in urban areas in Kenya and Uganda, from the onset of the crisis in March 2020, and then a few weeks later in Tanzania, Somalia and Rwanda. Other countries have not yet observed a significant increase. UNHCR and partners continue to closely monitor the situation as this might change with the resumption of program activities and the softening of the government measures related to COVID-19. In Kakuma camp in Kenya and Kibondo camp in Tanzania, for instance, the trend was showing a decrease, possibly due to challenges for reporting. This may be due to the fear or anxiety of becoming infected and home confinement measures. Despite adjustments to referral pathways for seeking help, access to information about reported cases was not always available.
Other SGBV incidents such as denial of resources, and psychological and emotional abuse are also reported in Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Harmful coping mechanisms such as sexual exploitation, teenage pregnancy and child marriage identified as a potential risk are now reported in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. In many instances, families rely on the dowry as a means of sustenance. In Tanzania and Uganda, the delayed reporting of rape cases did not allow for the administration of PEP kits.
Within countries the government restriction measures have different consequences depending on the areas where refugees reside.
Refugees in urban areas are particularly at risk as they are dispersed and difficult to reach, and movement restrictions in place prevent them from seeking support (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda). There are significant challenges in reaching these populations to share messages on how to seek assistance.
On a positive note, Burundi and Ethiopia have recognized SGBV services as essential services in their COVID-19 national response plans, facilitating access to services for survivors, providing PPE and lifting movement restrictions for SGBV case workers.1 Overall, SGBV incidents that existed prior to the COVID-19 crisis, especially Intimate Partner Violence, which is the most prominent, have been exacerbated by additional factors such as economic hardship among urban refugees, confinement policies and worsening of the already fragile social economic situation of households, reduction in food rations or cash based assistance triggering tensions within household, including as alcohol and substance abuse increased. In Uganda, for instance, with the extension of certain movement restrictions, it is anticipated that SGBV will increase, as couples remain confined in their shelters. In operations where the restrictions have been totally or partially lifted, the resumption of SGBV prevention and response activities (while adhering to COVID-19 prevention measures), might lead to a change in these trends.