By Cindy Kalita
In Kyaka refugee settlement in Kyegegwa district that has more than 100,000 refugees, Mr Dindo Kayana, a Congolese refugee lives with 16 members of his family.
He says he handles between twenty to thirty cases of domestic violence at the settlement especially during the coronavirus lockdown.
“The first enemy of people is hunger. When they (World Food Programme) reduced the cash they were giving from Shs31,000 to Shs19,000 per person, some people can even finish theirs in two weeks then they have to wait till the next time they are giving,” Mr Dindo, a local leader in the settlement tells Refugee Media and Migration News.
He is concerned that the youth are also becoming petty thieves who steal things like chicken because they are hungry.
The settlement has refugees from North Kivu, Sud Kivu, Minembwe and Kisangani in eastern DR Congo among other nationals.
Last year, the WFP Country Director, Mr EL-Khadir Daloum, told Daily Monitor that; “From April (2020), WFP will reduce both cash and food rations for refugees in all 13 settlements by 30 per cent because of insufficient funding. Refugees receiving food will continue to receive the food but it will be 5kg less (of cereals, beans and fortified vegetable cooking oil combined) than before. Refugees receiving cash will continue to receive cash reduced from Sh31, 000 to Sh22, 000 per person per month.”
He asked the refugees to use the available food to feed themselves and not sell off the food to others.
But the reduction in food rations has affected many refugees in how they manage their day to day lives.
World Food Programme, WFP supports about 1.2 million refugees in the 13 refugee settlements in West Nile and southwestern Uganda.
Mr. Dindo says that most of the domestic violence cases are due to lack of food in the family and the inability of family heads to look for alternative sources of food due to the coronavirus lockdown.
“WFP said they cannot give what they do not have. They are trying to give what they have. At the moment, people do not move to other zones. People no longer lend money because they do not know when the lockdown will end. So when you lack something, you have no where to run to. Yet everyone is locked to stay at home,” Mr Dindo explained.
The many mushrooming churches for pentecostals and catholics has tried to salvage the situation by offering counselling services and reconciling families with domestic violence but Mr. Dindo says;
“Even if you give them advise, at the end of everything, they need food. Church leaders come in and support them but these people need food then they will be okay.”
Last year, WFP introduced cash payments to replace food distribution as a result of the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic and dwindling funds to support the refugees.
New refugees coming to the settlement are given relief support for three months before they are put on the cash list.
They get 3kg of beans, 12 kgs of maize, 1.5litres of cooking oil per person per month, salt among other items.
Those who have been at the settlement from the 2000s to 2019 get money through bank agents with Equity and Post bank.
“If you do not have financial literacy, you can use all that money in one day,” says Mr. Dindo. He is happy that some people have used the little money to start small businesses that can add some profit that comes them going as they sell in their kiosks or at the open market.
According to a Mental Health and Psychosocial Support report by War Child Holland, WCH, an international Non-Governmental Organisation working with refugees in Uganda, more than 4,000 refugees sought virtual counselling during the coronavirus disease period as a way to cope with the stresses and anxieties occasioned by the disruptions caused by the disease.
The report covers the period of April 2020 to February, 2021.
WCH, Tutapona, AVSI, HAF-Uganda and TPO among others set up helplines (Tele psychology call centre) in the six districts of Hoima, Gulu, Lamwo, Yumbe, Kyegegwa and Isingiro. This was to help clients receive basic and specialized counseling services to help them manage their day-to-day distress.
The WCH report details that a total of 4,107 calls were received between April 2020 to Feburuary 2021 across the entire country ; 2129(52%) were cases that needed support, 480 (12%)feedback calls, 504(12%) follow-up calls, 299(7%) inquiry calls, 460(11%) calls could not be reached due to poor network and 235 callers were checking tollfree lines.
The table below shows Calls raised disaggregated by settlement, gender and refugee status
Data provided by War Child Holland, Uganda office.
Salient issues that the report indicates include; “Difficulty in accessing food precipitated several psychosocial distresses leading to aggression and violence in households, child bartering, child labor, and early marriages. Majority of the callers presented issues of food shortage as their major sources of distress. Some reported suicidal behaviors are due to shortage of food. A cut in the food ration was the major trigger for distress.”
Refugees come to Uganda seeking safety from hostilities and other forms of human rights violations from their home countries. But the coronavirus disease brought a double tragedy to some of the refugees who were rebuilding their lives after fleeing conflict in their countries.
Some have picked up their broken pieces yet others are yet to recover from their traumatic past.
The mental and psychosocial consequences of forced displacement and armed conflict can be manifold, encompassing social problems, emotional distress and common mental health disorders like anxiety disorders, PTSD, depression, severe mental disorders (psychosis), alcohol and substance use disorders and intellectual disabilities.
In May 2019, a national Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Working Group was established in Kampala to coordinate interventions in the refugee response. The same forum was established at settlement level to coordinate and implement MHPSS strategies in a consistent manner.