Urban refugees cry out for help amid lockdown

Deserted. The New Taxi Park in Kampala was deserted following a ban on public transport on Wednesday. Many urban refugees do small jobs like vending fruits and other items in the park for a living. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Jean Sadiki, 42, a resident of Namungoona in Kampala, is an urban refugee from the DR Congo. He has not left his house for the last two days and is already faced with hunger.
Sadiki earns a living by teaching French and Swahili to different families at a fee.

“Ever since President Museveni banned public transport, I have not left the house. If I do not leave the house, I do not earn. The ban on public transport was so sudden, we never got time to prepare for it. We are now suffering,” the father of three, told this newspaper on Friday.

“As we talk now, I have no food in the house,” he adds.
Before the partial lockdown, Sadiki would travel by public transport to meet with his clientele of eight Somalis and four Ugandans, whom he teaches French and Swahili, respectively.

Speaking with a Ugandan accent, Sadiki, who fled his country to Uganda in 2013, says he wanted to borrow money from a fellow urban refugee, but found that he too did not have any.

It is not only food that this refugee is worried about. His monthly rent bill of Shs350,000 is about to be dropped at his door.

“Many urban refugees are going to die of hunger. I have talked to colleagues who want to sell some of their household items to buy food but no one is interested in buying them,” he says, adding that the President’s call for people to stay at home had hit urban refugees hardest because many of them live from hand to mouth.

Sadiki appeals to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to come to their aid.

He reveals that in his Namungoona neighbourhood, there about 300 to 400 families of urban refugees.

On Wednesday, President Museveni banned public transport for 14 days as a measure to curtail the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Uganda has so far registered 23 cases of people infected with covid-19 by press time.

On Friday, some affected urban refugees sent out messages on social media urging the President, Speaker of Parliament, Prime Minister, donors and well-wishers to come up with humanitarian assistance to refugees.

“Urban refugees have been surviving by doing casual work across the city, collecting garbage from homes, washing people’s clothes and selling food stuff,” a WhatsApp message from one of them reads, in part.

According to the message, some of the urban refugees belong to vulnerable groups like women, children, nursing mothers, widows, orphans, child-led-house-holds, refugees living with HIV/Aids, and those with disabilities who cannot easily find food given the situation.

They appealed to the humanitarian agencies to provide them with basic daily needs such as food, masks, gloves and sanitisers.

Mr Donnas Ojok, a co-founder of Refugee Innovation and Sustainable Enterprise Urban Project (Rise-up), who works with some urban refugees, confirmed that urban refugees were in dire straits.
“Something needs to be done for them because these are special circumstances,” Mr Ojok said, adding: “I have already lent money to two of them but that money can only buy so much.”

UNHCR speaks out
When this newspaper sought out the UN refugee agency over the plight of urban refugees in the wake of the ban on public transport, they too said they had no solution for them.
“As you know, refugees in urban locations do not receive any material (food or non-food) assistant from the UN as a policy matter. The World Food Programme’s food assistance is limited to the 1.2 million refugees residing in refugee settlement camps,” Ms Duniya Aslum Khan (pictured), the UNHCR spokesperson, said.

“Food stores will remain open [to those in camps]. All refugees should not panic and follow the preventive measures to protect themselves from contracting the virus,” she said.


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