The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that urban refugees in East Africa and the Great Lakes region, are on the precipice of catastrophe due to a worsening economic situation brought by the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the UNHCR, lockdown restrictions put in place in much of the region means that refugees whose sustenance depends on the vibrancy of cities, have lost and are losing their livelihoods.
Commission spokesman Charlie Yaxley was quoted by the VOA saying that many refugees are already living “hand-to-mouth”.
“Urban refugees are facing job losses as businesses are forced to downsize or close due to COVID-19 restrictions. Many were daily wage workers or worked in the informal economy and were already living hand-to-mouth before the pandemic struck. Many urban refugees are also living in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions and are particularly vulnerable to the spread of the virus,” explained Yaxley.
In Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, where thousands of refugees from the Horn of Africa were already living in desperate conditions, the UNHCR has found that basic needs have become inaccessible to the refugees.
Earlier this year, the region recorded what was described as its worst locust outbreak in the last seven decades. The invasion of the pests quickly spread from Ethiopia to South Sudan, a country with a dire hunger problem.
Drier weather is expected later in the year and it is a turn experts have warned would only mean the number of locusts will grow, further causing concerns for food security in East Africa.
But food imports have also become difficult as a result of the pandemic, triggering a rise in prices. Yaxley therefore called on the region’s governments to step up their help to deprived refugees.
“So, our call today is for governments to also ensure that refugees are included in social safety nets. So that they are able to access welfare support payments, so that they are able to get assistance with meeting their basic needs. So, they are able to pay rent, have shelters, so they are able to afford food,” he added.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR says the situation will require some $126 million in support from the international community.