The COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve rapidly in the Southern Africa region, which has the greatest number of confirmed cases in the continent. Across the 16 countries in the region, national efforts to contain the virus range from the suspension of all passenger commercial flights from affected countries, through the closure of borders in 12 countries, to national lockdowns in seven countries. Some countries have instituted a partial lockdown: goods and cargo, returning citizens and legal residents are still allowed to move across borders. These measures are coupled with restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather in one place, and the prohibition of all events and activities related to religion and sports.
UNHCR is working with governments, WHO and other UN agencies and NGOs to secure the inclusion of refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless people and other marginalized communities in national preparedness and response measures. Operations are reviewing and adjusting their programmes to respond to emerging needs and find flexible, pragmatic solutions that allow UNHCR and its partners to stay and deliver.
Preparedness and response
Operations in the region have been looking for pragmatic and creative methods to deliver assistance given the growing risks and restrictions. Methods range from installing hand washing stations in transit centres, camps and settlements to the inclusion of women and girls in leadership roles, and their involvement in community-based protection initiatives.
UNHCR and partners are limiting the number of people present at any given time during distributions of sanitation and core relief items (CRIs), such as blankets, kitchen sets, and jerry cans. The new arrangements are communicated through awareness efforts, designating special times for the most vulnerable, and extending distribution times. UNHCR and partners are employing similar practices for food distributions in Angola, the Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe. In some cases, families will receive an advance on their rations (two months’ worth instead of one) for increased food security. Efforts are also underway to expand cash-based initiatives to provide vulnerable individuals, which can be a more flexible and contact-less way to address their food, medicine, shelter or other essential needs.
UNHCR and partners in Angola have been training refugee journalists to conduct a mobile awareness campaign on COVID-19 prevention throughout Lóvua Refugee Settlement. The refugees have been provided with key messages on preventive and preparedness measures along with a sound system and transport.
Community protection focal points in Mozambique have been provided with mobile phones and credit to undertake protection monitoring in IDP communities.
In camps and settlements for persons of concern throughout the region, UNHCR and partners are establishing isolation centres and training health workers on how to identify and refer cases. They have also reinforced measures at points of entry to refugee camps, IDP sites and transit centres, including temperature-screening and handwashing stations. In DRC, asylum-seekers who are still at the transit centres will be transferred to Mulongwe Settlement,
South Kivu Province and new hangars are currently under construction in the settlement where they will remain in quarantine for 14 days.