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Monitoring Social and Economic Impacts of COVID-19 on Refugees in Uganda: Results from the High-Frequency Phone Survey First round (October/November 2020)

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Key messages and findings

Labour Market and family farming:

✓ The employment rate among refugees was low, reaching 43 percent in October/November 2020.
This was significantly lower than the employment rate among Ugandans which reached 90 percent in September/October 2020. Refugees in Kampala had the lowest employment rate (27 percent).

✓ The sector and type of employment among refugees differed across regions. Refugees in Kampala were mostly engaged in services (81 percent) and more than half of the respondents worked in their own business (55 percent). About 46 percent of refugees in the South West worked in the agricultural sector and more than half worked as wage employees. While fewer refugees worked in the agricultural sector in West Nile (36 percent), those that did, mainly worked in their own farms (19 percent).

✓ As reported in October/November 2020, about 13 percent of refugee respondents stopped working since March. Work stoppages were more likely to happen in Kampala (26 percent) followed by South West (24 percent). Refugees in the West Nile region were the least likely to stop working after the lockdown (5 percent). Work stoppages were least pronounced in strata with higher shares of employment in own farms.

✓ Many refugee households were engaged in family farming (69 percent) and livestock (37 percent) since 2020. About 10 percent among them indicated that they had to change their agricultural activities because of COVID-19 during the first agricultural season. Among those who needed to sell agricultural produce since 2020 (20 percent) almost 40 percent were not able to do so in October/November and households in South West were affected the most.

Poverty and income:

✓ According to preliminary estimation based on Survey of Well-being via Instant and Frequent Tracking (SWIFT) methodology, poverty among refugees increased after lockdown by eight percentage points from 44 to 52 percent.

✓ Total income either declined or was lost for 89 percent of households since March 2020.

Food Security:

✓ Food security seems to have deteriorated significantly compared to the situation in 2018. The share of households which ran out of food because of a lack of money or other resources increased from 61 percent in 2018 to 85 percent in October/November 2020.

Access to Services:

✓ Among access to basic needs, access to food was the lowest. Nearly 30 percent of households were not able to buy the main staple food in the week preceding the interview and access to food was the lowest in Kampala (60 percent) followed by South West (41 percent). Access to medical treatment was relatively high, but still 20 percent could not access it when needed since March 2020.

✓ Only 58 percent of households, where any member attended a school before March 2020, had a member engaged in education or learning activities after the closure of schools. The likelihood of participating in learning activities after closures was the highest among refugee households in West Nile (67 percent), followed by South West (47 percent) and Kampala (32 percent).
Households in Kampala were the most likely to have members who would not return to school when schools reopened (more than 20 percent).

✓ Among those who engaged in learning, the most common activity was to study alone – the type of learning with the least education and human capital building potential if not combined with any other activity provided by education institutions or education professionals. Thus, in about 10 percent of households, the learning activities included only studying alone, doing homework provided by parents and learning agricultural activities.

Coping Strategies, socio Economic Shocks and social assistance:

✓ Every refugee household suffered at least one socioeconomic shock since March 2020. The households from the poorest quintile, based on pre-COVID-19 imputed consumption, were more likely to have more than one shock and were more likely to not implement any strategy to cope with shock(s).

✓ Refugee households in South West and West Nile were covered almost universally by different types of social assistance. Refugees in the West Nile region were more likely to report getting food and other in-kind assistance, while refugees in the South West region were more likely to report getting cash transfers. Refugees in Kampala were the least likely to get social assistance.

Knowledge and behavior:

✓ Knowledge of COVID-19 symptoms among refugee households was far from universal and varied by country of origin, but with no significant differences recorded by level of education which may signal about differences in access to information.

✓ Knowledge of preventive measures to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 was much lower among refugees than among Ugandans, while refugees in South West reported the highest knowledge about most preventive measures.

✓ False beliefs were slightly more common among refugees than among Ugandans and some were especially prevalent in South Sudanese respondents residing in West Nile, as well as female respondents and those without formal education.

✓ Self-reported adherence to safe practices such as handwashing and avoiding handshakes/physical greetings was very high among refugee households. Mask wearing all or most of the time while in public was reported to be almost universal in Kampala but less frequent in South West and West Nile.


✓ Many respondents were concerned about the possibility of becoming seriously ill due to COVID19 (69 percent) and considered the outbreak to be a substantial financial threat (73 percent). Respondents in West Nile were concerned the least.

✓ Burundian and Congolese respondents in South West felt less safe at home since the COVID-19 outbreak than South Sudanese and Somali respondents.

✓ Perceived safety at home was highly correlated with perceived safety in the community, as Somali respondents tended to feel safer. The main reasons for feeling unsafe in the community were related to living in an unsafe area without safe spaces and having no access to basic services.
Female respondents and respondents from female headed households were more likely to feel unsafe because they lived in unsafe area.

✓ Whilst most refugees sought information about education, food, health and employment, resettlement to third countries remained a key information need among refugees in Kampala.