07 July 2020
Often praised for having an open-door policy for refugees, Uganda closed its borders in March, leaving thousands of refugees and asylum seekers stranded and unable to enter the country (see 6 April update). Since May, approximately 10,000 refugees have been camped out on the Uganda-Democratic Republic of Congo border, having fled escalating violence in eastern DRC. However, following a 16 June decision, President Yoweri Museveni ordered authorities to temporarily re-open some border crossings to allow entry to those seeking protection. During 1-3 July, more than 3,000 Congolese asylum seekers were able to enter the country. The government’s decision was praised by UNHCR, whose spokesman in Uganda said, “It proves that even in the midst of a global crisis like COVID-19, there are ways to manage border restrictions in a manner which respects international human rights and refugee protection standards.” Despite the move, however, people trying to enter from South Sudan continue to be denied entry.
Those permitted entry are quarantined in a facility in Zombo near the border that can accommodate up to 6,000 people. Following mandatory quarantine, all asylum seekers are to be transferred to existing refugee camps within the country. However, as rights groups have highlighted, living conditions in Uganda’s refugee camps are poor and conducive to the spread of the virus. In a statement released shortly after announcement of the order to allow Congolese asylum seekers entry into the country, the Global Refugee-Led Network-Africa Chapter also urged authorities to ensure that quarantine conditions are dignified, “and to develop more general measures to admit people needing international protection at other border points.”
Meanwhile, Ugandan authorities have released groups of prisoners during the crisis—including 74 Congolese fishermen who had been confined in penal facilities in Katwe and Mubuku since 2018/2019. (Between July 2018 and the end of 2019, Uganda stepped up its patrols on Lake Edouard, and arrested more than 400 Congolese fishermen found in Ugandan waters.)
- Amnesty International, “East Africa: People Seeking Safety Are Trapped at Borders Due to Covid-19 Measures,” 22 June 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/06/east-africa-people-seeking-safety-are-trapped-at-borders-due-to-covid-19-measures/
- UNHCR, “Uganda Provides a Safe Haven to DRC Refugees Amid COVID-19 Lockdown,” 1 July 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2020/7/5efca8d64/uganda-provides-safe-haven-drc-refugees-amid-covid-19-lockdown.html
- UNHCR, “Over 3,000 Congolese Refugees Arrive in Uganda in Three Days,” 7 July 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2020/7/5f042a5a4/3000-congolese-refugees-arrive-uganda-three-days.html
- B. van Eyssen, “Uganda Remains Steadfast on Refugees Despite Covid-19,” DW, 3 July 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/uganda-remains-steadfast-on-refugees-despite-covid-19/a-54041165
- Radio Okapi, “Ouganda : 74 pêcheurs congolais libérés par grâce présidentielle,” 5 May 2020, https://www.radiookapi.net/2020/05/05/actualite/societe/ouganda-74-pecheurs-congolais-liberes-par-grace-presidentielle
- An Asylum Seeker with her Children and Others, Sitting After Undergoing a Health Screening Near the Border Crossing in Zombo, Uganda, (Rocco Nuri, UNHCR, "Over 3,000 Congolese Refugees Arrive in Uganda in Three Days," 7 July 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2020/7/5f042a5a4/3000-congolese-refugees-arrive-uganda-three-days.html)
06 April 2020
Despite the country’s open-door policy towards refugees and asylum seekers, on 25 March authorities announced measures to suspend the reception of new refugees and asylum seekers for thirty days. Transit and reception centres were ordered to close immediately, while flights in and out of the country have been suspended and borders sealed. Refugees who are already in the country will continue to receive support.
Handwashing and temperature screening facilities have been put in place at points of entry as well as transit centres and reception centres.
- The New Humanitarian, “In the News: Uganda Suspends Refugee Arrivals as Coronavirus Cases Soar,” 25 March 2020, www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2020/03/25/uganda-coronavirus-refugees-asylum-seekers
- InfoMigrants, “Uganda Closes Borders to Refugees,” 27 March 2020, www.infomigrants.net/en/post/23705/uganda-closes-borders-to-refugees
- Africa News, “Coronavirus - Africa (UNHCR): Staying and Delivering for Refugees Amid Covid-19 Crisis,” 6 April 2020, www.africanews.com/2020/04/06/coronavirus-africa-unhcr-staying-and-delivering-for-refugees-amid-covid-19-crisis/
- Global Detention Project, Immigration Detention in Uganda, www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/africa/uganda