Refugees in East Africa face closed borders due to COVID-19 measures

Refugees arrive in Uganda from South Sudan Refugees arrive in Uganda from South Sudan Julius Ocungi/Daily Monitor

30 June 2020

NGOs warn that Border Closures by Horn, East, and Central African (HECA) states have seen refugees turned back at the border

Thousands of Refugees and Asylum seekers in the Horn, East, and Central Africa region are stranded after countries shut their borders to stop the spread of COVID-19. Countries in the HECA region host millions of refugees and have a long history of protecting asylum seekers.

However, countries in the region including Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Somalia closed their borders in March 2020 as part of efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19. In Kenya, the borders with Somalia and Tanzania closed on 16 May, and asylum seekers who cross the border are detained and sent back to the point of entry. 

Leading a coalition of international, national, and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the HECA region to call on the government. To put in place measures to protect public health and safety while respecting humanitarian law.

The NGOs say that due to continuing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, and Somalia States should open their borders. Blanket border closures that prevent asylum seekers from entry are against the 1951 United Nations Convention on non-refoulement, which prohibits states, from turning away people at a border and returning them to a country where they would be at risk of persecution or danger.

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for east and southern Africa said that “Governments should consider measures such as medical screening or testing, preventative and time-bound quarantine facilities at border crossing points to allow access to asylum seekers" in a joint statement released on June 22.

Along the DRC-Uganda border, approximately 10,000 displaced people have been camped out since May, waiting to seek asylum in Uganda. However, Uganda on June 16 allowed the displaced people to enter the country while efforts were underway to prepare for their safe entry, quarantine, and settlement.

“We welcome Uganda’s decision to receive this specific group of Congolese asylum seekers. We urge the government and partners to ensure quarantine conditions for this group are dignified, and to develop more general measures to admit people needing international protection at other border points,” said Robert Hakiza, Coordinator of the Global Refugee-Led Network-Africa Chapter.


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Author: Abbiba Ivy Princewill

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