In June, the Office of the Prime Minister - Department of Refugees (OPM) and UNHCR jointly launched the revision and extension of the Uganda Refugee Response Plan (RRP) through to 2021 as to factor in the requirements for the COVID-19 response and to better align existing government plans for refugee and host communities in refugee-hosting districts, mainly in the sectors of health, water and environment, to move towards sustainable service provision. The revised plan also includes sector strategies and budgets to address the needs of refugees from Burundi.
The RRP was still under revision as of 30 June 2020, with partners adjusting their financial requirements and targets to cater for 50,041 Burundian refugees by the end of 2020 and 51,292 by the end of 2021.
With ongoing instability in the neighbouring countries, the overall refugee population in Uganda continued to grow, with a total of 1,425,040 individuals biometrically registered as refugees and asylum-seekers as of 30 June 2020. In line with the 2006 Refugee Act, refugees enjoy freedom of movement, the right to work and establish businesses, the right to documentation and equal access to national services.
With a total of 48,275 persons, Burundian refugees make up the third largest population group of refugees hosted by Uganda as of end of June 2020. The vast majority reside in Nakivale settlement in Isingiro district and over half (51 per cent) are children.
A total of 1,484 new refugeefrom Burundi sought safety in Uganda between January and March 2020, before the closure of Uganda’s land borders due to COVID-19. On 19 March, the Government of Uganda declared COVID-19 a national emergency and established several measures to contain the pandemic, including closure of borders, schools, and the airport, movement restrictions and limitation of public and social gatherings.
The COVID-19 crisis presented an extraordinary challenge for the international protection of refugees, following the temporary suspension of admission and registration of new asylum-seekers. Refugees are amongst the most vulnerable population groups in Uganda, with limited capacities and opportunities to cope with the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although all refugees are affected, the pandemic disproportionally impacted women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities, medically at risk and other groups with specific protection needs.
The movement restrictions limited availability of essential care and support to refugees and caused disruption of existing learning systems, social networks and support mechanisms.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, the response was adapted to ensure that critical services continued to be provided. For all sectors, business continuity plans were developed and RRP partners engaged both in the response, coordination, and the provision of adapted services in line with Ministry of Health guidelines and in cooperation with District Local Governments (DLGs) and COVID-19 Task Forces.
With only 20 per cent of funding received for the Burundi situation in the first half of 2020, RRP partners continued to face enormous challenges in stabilizing existing programmes and meeting the minimum standards of service provision, let alone investing in long-term and more sustainable interventions. Notably, severe underfunding compromised the quality of child protection and education, and the capacity to fully provide mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) and prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).