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Uganda: assisting refugees in times of COVID-19

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Imagine you have no identity documents and you are sheltering as a refugee in a strange country. You can’t go to a public hospital, apply for assistance from local authorities, get an education or even get married. How can children and other vulnerable people, including young women, be protected? How can those with special needs be assisted?

Uganda hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, sheltering over 1.4 million refugees fleeing conflicts in South Sudan, DRC and other neighbouring countries. Contrary to what happens in the majority of similar cases, refugees do not live in camps, but have been granted small plots of land to build their own houses and grow their own vegetables.

Despite this, refugees still face many challenges, from food to adequate shelter, but also dealing with the trauma of displacement. Tensions within the refugee community and the challenges of caring for the children, the elderly and those with special needs, are also taking their toll. Among the most vulnerable, including women and girls, forced marriage and physical and sexual abuse remain a constant threat.

The EU has been supporting several humanitarian partners to help meet the needs of the most vulnerable, committing some €34 million in 2020 alone. However, with the coronavirus pandemic having led to lockdowns and closing of schools, assisting these refugees has been especially challenging. Protection measures against COVID-19 limited the presence of field workers, and the reduction in aid activities placed an additional strain on refugee communities.

We have recently visited refugee communities in Uganda and witnessed their efforts to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.

Story and photos by Mathias Eick, Regional Information Officer, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

Last updated 06/04/2021