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Uganda, Strapped for Funds, Admits 4,000 Refugees From DRC

By Halima Athumani June 20, 2020

Ahead of Saturday's World Refugee Day, Uganda admitted another 4,000 people fleeing clashes in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, but a top Ugandan official said more funding was needed to support the new refugees, 44 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

At a recent news conference in Kampala, Hilary Onek, Uganda's minister for relief, disaster and refugees, accused some members of the international community of causing conflict in countries such as the DRC and South Sudan.

Onek said that even though Uganda had said it would not accept more refugees until after the COVID-19 pandemic passed, thousands of refugees from the DRC were stuck in the no-man's land in Zombo district, northern Uganda.

"What the government has done deliberately is move in and cordon off those 4,000 and take them to a school somewhere, away from the border, where they are now being screened from Zombo," Onek said. "If the international community will not cooperate with us to get a solution on how to manage these refugees, we might have to be forced to return them back to their countries. Because we don't have the money. As a government, our budgets are very lean."

Uganda already hosts Africa's largest refugee population, about 1.4 million, with DRC refugees accounting for about a third of the total. Many live in crowded conditions and are vulnerable to the coronavirus if it begins to spread in the camps.

Gerald Menyha, the commissioner for refugees, said Uganda has activated all its quarantine centers in refugee hosting districts to take care of those who are infected.

"Of the 870 quarantined refugees in different quarantine centers in the country, 44 have tested positive and they are being managed by the Ministry of Health," Menyha said. "And they are improving, but they are yet to be released from these health centers and quarantine centers."

Joel Boutroue, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees' representative to Uganda, said that because of the protracted refugee situation, donors are fatigued and are failing to sustain support extended to refugees.

As a result, he said, the World Food Program has cut rations by 30 percent and cash handouts by the same percentage.

"Come September, what happens? Well, for education, around $10 million" is at stake, he said. "We may have to totally discontinue financing the over 4,000 teachers that we pay. We will not have any more funds to continue supporting the over 100 health centers that we support throughout the refugee hosting districts. We will not have any more funds to continue livelihood activities or distribute soap and other nonfood items to the refugees."

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