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KIU International Desk: Urban Refugees in East Africa at Great Risk Due to COVID-19


KIU, Main Campus - The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned of hundreds of thousands of urban refugees across the East, Horn and Great Lakes regions of Africa resorting to desperate measures to survive as the economic impact of COVID-19 continues to worsen.

The UN refugee agency says urban refugees are most seriously affected and are unable to meet their most basic needs as the government-imposed lockdowns and curfews aimed at preventing the spread of the Coronavirus is restricting freedom of movement and ability to earn a living.

UNHCR spokesman, Charlie Yaxley, says that many urban refugees are at risk of exploitation and falling into debt, and further warns that many may be forced to take desperate measures to survive, such as engaging in transactional sex or child labour.

“Urban refugees are facing job losses as businesses are forced to downsize or close due to COVID-19 restrictions. Many were daily wage workers or worked in the informal economy and were already living hand-to-mouth before the pandemic struck. Many urban refugees are also living in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions and are particularly vulnerable to the spread of the virus,” said Yaxley.

Yaxley also says that despite reports that thousands of refugees are crammed into squalid districts with little access to clean water, making hand washing nearly impossible, governments across the East, Horn and Great Lakes regions so far have included refugees in COVID-19 response plans.

“Our call today is for governments to also ensure that refugees are included in social safety nets. So that they are able to access welfare support payments and able to get assistance with meeting their basic needs. So, they are able to pay rent, have shelters, so they are able to afford food,” he said.

The UNHCR reports challenges of the rise in prices of food imports due to the pandemic, and the swarms of locusts, especially in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, which are ravaging crops and threatening to increase hunger and poverty.

Picture credit: VOA