Uganda – Breaking point: the life of refugees in the time of Covid-19

15 June 2020

(ANS - Palabek) - In Uganda no Covid-19-related deaths have been recorded so far, although there are currently 696 confirmed cases of infection. "It's difficult to raise awareness among a population that has not yet personally witnessed the impact of a pandemic of this type," explain the Salesians active in the refugee camp of Palabek, which currently houses 56,000 people and is obviously a place at great risk.

"Movements are found among refugees from South Sudan sneaking through the unofficial borders and from other refugee camps....  About 50 of the transiting truck drivers who went to South Sudan are found positive.... Our Refugees in Palabek Settlement Camp are not following rules and regulations that could control the spread of Covid 19," explains Fr Jeffrey Albert, one of the Salesians active in Palabek.

The reduction of food rations is another evident problem in the settlement: the food available has fallen by 30% and for an adult it is almost impossible to maintain themselves for a month. "This can also generate frustration, anger and other social unrest," observes Fr Lazar Arasu, head of the Salesian mission.

Health is also a prime concern. The medical services provided to refugees have always been poor: there are only three health units, with minimal facilities, for over 56,000 refugees, and these facilities are also shared by several thousand Ugandan natives in the surrounding area. Now, due to lockdown, providing medical services is even more difficult, and there is an increase in diseases such as stomach ulcers and other problems related to poor nutrition.

The closure of schools decreed at the national level also affects the 11 primary schools, the one secondary school and the technical school, all of which serve at least 25,000 school-age children present in the settlement. By staying at home, with less food than before, without lessons, without distractions of any kind (facilities for sports and other youth activities have also been closed), children and young people are stuck between anguish and nervousness. Several teenagers and young adults have taken on antisocial attitudes and an unruly sex life.

As in almost everywhere across the world, the chapels inside the settlement have also been closed: but in the context of a refugee camp not being able to live the liturgy, the community, this has meant losing even the minimum of spiritual and psychosocial support that the religious were able and could offer.

In this context, which affects the Sons of Don Bosco, as well as all the inhabitants of the settlement, the Salesians do what they can. As long as they were allowed to, they distributed some food to hungry people asking for food help across the border; and they printed teaching materials and circulated it among their students, but they hope to receive donations to be able to purchase actual textbooks.

Fr Arasu concludes: "Like the refugees we too look forward to the end of epidemic and return to normal life, to serve our beloved refugees better."



ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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