From War to More suffering; ‘How Urban Refugees in Uganda are grappling with Covid-19 Lockdown’

By Aggrey Ojok Obwoyo and Moise Mbulula Kakulu

As the world struggled with COVID-19 lockdown, here in Uganda, many people were caught unaware of what the days ahead would bring.

Another 42-days lockdown that was imposed by Ugandan President Yoweeri Museveni on June 18, 2021 has left urban refugee communities desperate as they reflect on their experience in the first lockdown. The pandemic has left millions in misery due to loss of jobs and high cost of living.

In this report, Urban refugees living in the surrounding areas of Kampala City and Wakiso district bore the brunt of the lockdown as the costs of living continue to increase to date due to high costs of transport and restrictions on public transport.

In Masaaja Division, Wakiso district, there sits the head office of Bondeko, a livelihoods training centre for supporting refugees with skills trainings with an aim of making them self-reliant.

Bondeko, is a Lingala word loosely translated as ‘brotherhood’. It began in 1997 to bring together Congolese who fled conflict from their country.

Mr. Paul Bahati, the Executive Director of Bondeko says during the lockdown, they had to embrace Burundians, South Sudanese and to train them in vocational skills that they can use to earn a living for their families.

“The activities we carry out range from training members in tailoring, driving, baking to art and design” Paul told Refugee and Migration News.

However, as the pandemic continued to disrupt businesses and other ways of life, the organisation had to scale down their activities due to lack of funds. This affected their members.

“Feeding was the biggest challenge since many people rely on business activities for survival. Some families spent days without eating and we had a case where a pregnant woman spent more than two days without anything to eat,” Bahati sadly told Refugee Media and Migration News.

Like other parts of Uganda, there was also an increase in the number of cases of domestic violence among urban refugees in Kampala and Wakiso.

To ease the pressure on families fighting for lack of food, Bondeko distributed relief food to about 1,000 urban refugee families, donated charcoal briquettes and stoves not only to refugees but also to nationals around the community since the challenges faced during COVID 19 affected everyone.

“When lock down measures were eased, we resumed our activities for instance there are international volunteers who share skills in different capacities.

Recently we had zoom trainings for refugee women and girls interested in baking and we are planning to engage more people in painting classes as well and also resume our Information Communication Technology (ICT) class probably next month,” Mr Bahati told Refugee Media and Migration News.

He hailed refugee women and youths for the resilience they exhibited during the lockdown.

“We focus more on women and youth empowerments since many people depend on them and yet a number of them experienced different forms of violence,” Mr Bahati said.

He further advised women to have hope that things will one day change for the better.

Since most of the members are believers in Christ, as a humanitarian organization their faith provides a dynamic solution of giving hope. “Bondeko is committed to making refugees self-reliant and not a burden to host communities” Mr Bahati said.

Whereas there are many organisations registered to fight for the rights and empower refugees, a few are on the ground to represent the ideals they profess.