By Mukomboozi John
ADJUMANI-Government of Uganda has been asked to mainstream the issues of older refugees into its response to COVID-19 as Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate World Refugee Day today.
The country has been lauded internationally for its progressive open-door policy for refugees.
This has seen an influx of about 1.3 million refugees from neighboring countries such as South Sudan, DR Congo, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Eretria since 2015.
As the world to mark the World Refugee Day amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, HelpAge International Uganda wants the COVID-19 response to reach out to the older men and women in refugee camps.
The country representative for HelpAge International in Uganda Emily Kemigisha said; “Older women and men in the refugee camps are a group with the highest primary needs in this crisis.”
Kemigisha highlighted that COVID-19 presents specific risks for older people more especially for those living in camps where health care and equipment, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and referral services, may not be optimal.
As an intervention, Kemigisha revealed that HelpAge has implemented an EU-funded multi-country project through its network member Uganda Reach the Aged Association in Adjumani that targeted support to older South Sudanese migrants.
“The project has mobilised and built the capacities of older persons, provide protection-related support, and promoted inclusive programming among humanitarian actors,” she said.
The project, she said has influenced the protection, contribution, and participation of older people in society.
The chief executive officer of Uganda Reach the Aged Association, Frederick Bwire said older refugees ought to be included in leadership structures to participate in decision-making processes.
“On this World Refugee Day, it must dawn on all that everyone counts in the fight against COVID-19. The UN has called for us to work together to ensure that every human being is protected and included in the response to this crisis.”
He added; “Everyone, regardless of their social or economic status, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Everyone must have access to basic human rights. Everyone has a role to play in society.”
Bwire said it was concerning that 90% of those who have died from COVID-19 in Europe were over 60, and more than half of those were over 80.
Initial research in China based on over 44,000 cases of COVID-19, showed a mortality rate of 2.3% for the general population, rising to 8% in those aged 70-79 and nearly 15% in those 80 and over.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) conflict, hunger and economic upheavals have displaced nearly 80 million people worldwide, half of them children, by the end of 2019 – nearly twice as many as a decade ago.
The UN agency is marking this year’s World Refugee Day with the message that “every action counts”, as it faces the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic and record numbers of people forced from their homes by war and extreme weather.
On its website, the UN said; “The June 20 event this year is aimed at reminding the world that everyone, including refugees, can contribute to society.