By Peterson Okot
The latest lockdown by the government of Uganda to prevent the spread of the deadly second wave of the coronavirus diseases, covid-19 is making life for child headed families in refugee settlements difficult.
In Palabek refugee settlement in northern Uganda Mr. Anthony Ocheng Dominic says life is extremely hard.
“One of the biggest challenges being encountered by children in this zone is during food distribution time. Most children do not have money completely to transport their food ration from the food distribution point to their homes. At times the distance could reach as far as 4 to 5 km which makes it harder to collect their portion,” says Mr Ocheng.
School closure leaves children feeding on Cassava leaves.
In refugee communities, schools used to provide lunch for children and this was a big relief to refugee child headed families.
Unfortunately, this situation changed with the new lockdown. Government closed schools on June 6, 2021 until further notice.
This happened when they were just beginning to adjust to food reduction in all refugee settlements across the country by the UN agency, World Food Program (WFP) during the first lockdown.
“The food ration could last for at least a month because children would be at school for other meals. However, since schools were closed, food rations consumed per month increased. Now the food gets finish fast before the month ends when it is not time for another food distribution and as result the only option is to go to the host community for hard labour works in return for cassava and the leaves,”says Mr. Ocheng.
Ms Hellen Akwero, a resident of zone 5a block 4 in Palabek settlement said the COVID-19 has worsened their situation.
“Eversince the reduction of food ration, it isn’t enough for us to finish the period which we are supposed to last for” she said adding that most people are home and not engaged in productive activities to supplement what the aid agencies give. The main challenge is lack of transport to look for casual labour work among the host communities.
When Government land become too small
Some refugees would have loved to grow their own food to supplement their food rations. but they say the plots of land the Ugandan government allocated for them on arrival are too small to plant in varieties of crops.
“Since our plots are small in size, we couldn’t get enough produce or food to supplement what we get from the food distribution point,” says Ms Akwero who immediately clarifies that the children in child-headed families have resorted to having a meal a day to survive.
“As a family we decided to reduce the amount of food that we consume daily so that we can make it to the next distribution day. We also go to people’s farms and dig, we use the money they pay to buy necessities,” Ms Akwero noted.
To get casual work, they have to trek for more than 4 kilometers to host community gardens to get an extra income to buy more food and other necessities of life.
When asked about the support refugees would receive apart from the relief food, Wendy Daphne Kasujja, the Assistant Reporting Officer, External Engagement UNHCR representation in Uganda said last week that; “Unfortunately, refugees will not be receiving cash during this second wave of COVID-19. However, they will receive medical care and participate in livelihood activities that allow for social distancing with small numbers”.
Wendy explained that refugees would have access to health care from the government facilities available within their areas of operation. Like everyone else in the country, the refugees have also been affected by the pandemic.
The measures put in place like reduction in the number of people per vehicle and lack of public transport, has greatly affected their ability to access health-care if needed, beyond what is close to them.
“UNHCR is providing support through its partners. They are being helped to access healthcare services through our partners, who either transport them to health facilities or procure medicine that is not available in Government health facilities close to them,” Wendy told Refugee Media and Migration Network last week.