UNHCR stepping up coronavirus prevention measures for refugees across East, Horn and Great Lakes region of Africa


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is ramping up efforts to increase capacity to prevent, treat and limit the potential spread of COVID-19 among refugee communities across the East, Horn and Great Lakes region of Africa, which hosts some of the largest refugee populations in the world. Living in crowded conditions, without adequate access to water and sanitation facilities, and with precarious livelihoods and food security, refugees in the region are particularly vulnerable to the virus, both in refugee camps and in urban areas.
Following confirmation of the first cases of COVID-19 in South Sudan and Eritrea last week, all countries in the region are now responding to the outbreak. While to date there have been no confirmed cases amongst refugees, asylum-seekers or internally displaced people in the region, the need to be prepared is urgent.
UNHCR is actively engaged with Ministries of Health and other government authorities, and the World Health Organization, on the inclusion of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people (IDPs) in national response plans. A number of countries in the region already have exemplary policies in place that allow refugees to access public health-care services. However, many refugees live in remote areas many miles from the nearest government health facilities. Others live in small, overcrowded dwellings in densely populated urban areas where they face significant challenges in adhering to guidelines around physical and social distancing.
Many of our operations in the region have provided refugees increased quantities of food and basic relief items including soap to reduce the frequency of distributions and the risks posed by queues and large crowds.