Aid agencies strive to help South Sudanese refugees affected by COVID-19 in Uganda

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Sudan Potrait

Hundreds of South Sudanese refugees seeking protection in Uganda’s northwestern district of Adjumani said border closure due to the ongoing fight against COVID-19 pandemic is hampering access to food ration.

Rhoda Ayen Ajak, a 35-year-old mother of three, said that she could not sign for food ration at a time of distribution because she got stranded at Nimule-Elegu border checkpoint after she visited relatives in South Sudan. “At the time authorities decided to close the border, I was already at Elegu-Nimule border, but I was denied entry.

Now, I am very much worried about my children’s welfare in the camp,” Ayen said on Wednesday.The Ugandan government on March 23 announced closure of the main border points to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus.

Humanitarian agencies and camp authorities on March 25 started distribution of food ration to refugees in Nyumazi refugee settlement just four days after Ugandan authority restricted Elegu-Nimule cross-border in order to contain the spread of the disease. “My children are going hungry, and this worries me a lot. Sometimes, I call them and get a lot of complaints from them.

Those complaints like sickness get me troubled a lot. I don’t sleep at night because of that,” Ayen said. According to rules set by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), only adults are eligible to sign and receive a family’s monthly food ration at the distribution centers.

Adau Bul, who has also been affected,said that her three children were prevented from getting the monthly food aid. “They could not receive food rations because I am the only eligible.

I am traumatized now because of their hunger,” said Bul. Nyang Aluel, South Sudanese camp chairman at Nyumazi refugee settlement, described the situation as unfortunate, noting that the circumstance happened at a time when immigration authorities were compelled to strictly implement measures meant to contain the spread of the disease.

“So what we came up with was to list those households and then submit the list to the office of the prime minister, including UNHCR, and we will also verify those affected children at different households,” Aluel said.

He said there are at least 68 households out of 300 refugees who were not able to receive food rations in the last distribution cycle in Nyumazi refugee settlement alone.

“The authorities are looking into providing them with alternative food options as the eligible parents assigned to collect food rations would return after the lockdown,” said Aluel.

He said that he is working with aid agencies and the Ugandan government to resolve the matter, noting that other camp leaders last month contributed food to children whose households did not receive rations.

Uganda is home to over one million South Sudanese refugees who fled their homeland following the outbreak of war in 2013 and again in 2016.

“Some refugees have moved back and forth between Uganda and South Sudan looking for services not available in the settlement,” said Aluel.

“More than two dozen refugees who tried to cross illegally back into the camp have been quarantined at the border,” he added.

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