A contribution from Denmark helps UNHCR strengthen the response to urgent influx of refugees in Uganda, already hosting 1.4 million refugees.
New waves of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are forcing thousands from their homes – many are seeking safety in neighboring Uganda, already hosting 1.4 M refugees. Contributions from Denmark has enabled UNHCR to strengthen the protection for the displaced in both countries.
For almost one month, 56-year-old Emmanuelle Ochaya was sleeping on the bare ground in a makeshift hut in the middle of a forest. Completely alone and separated from her family – and with the clothes on her back as her only belongings.
As thousands of others who have recently been forced from their homes due to new waves of violence and deadly attacks on civilians in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Emmanuelle fled her village Zulu, when armed militia attacked and set houses on fire. She saw her neighbors get killed and immediately just ran for her life.
“On my way, I saw people being killed, their belongings and houses burnt to ashes. Nothing was left untouched,” says Emmanuelle who is now safe and receiving help from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in Uganda.
Uganda is currently the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, providing refuge to 1.4 million refugees, the majority from South Sudan and DRC. The country has a longstanding history of very progressive and inclusive refugee policies and has truly committed to realizing the objectives in the Global Compact on Refugees.
Despite COVID-19 restrictions and the closure of borders since mid-March, Uganda again showed exceptional generosity and solidarity, when in July the president ordered a temporary reopening of the Uganda-DRC borders in Zombo district to provide protection to thousands of stranded Congolese asylum-seekers.
In a few days approximately 3,000 Congolese refugees entered Uganda – most of them women, children and elderly people. Many of them were in extremely frail conditions, having hidden in the bush for several weeks without access to food, clean water and shelter.
As a timely and important response to this influx, contributions from Denmark’s flexible Emergency Reserve Fund were allocated to both UNHCR’s operation in Uganda and DRC with DKK 10 M for each country (approx. USD 1.47 million). This emergency funding has enabled UNHCR to strengthen its humanitarian and protection efforts for both the refugees who have arrived in Uganda as well as the thousands who are internally displaced within DRC.
“The needs are huge, growing and urgent in both Uganda and DRC. The funding from Denmark will help us provide critical protection and life-saving aid to many children, women and men. The contribution also sends an important signal of support to Uganda, who continues to demonstrate solidarity and responsibility in hosting a very large number of refugees from neighboring African countries,” says Henrik M Nordentoft, UNHCR’s Representative in Northern Europe.
Approximately 3,000 Congolese refugees crossed into Uganda, when the country temporarily reopened its borders on humanitarian ground. UNHCR and partners ensured security and health screenings and identified vulnerable individuals for fast-tracked assistance.
"Many people were killed in my village, hacked to death with machetes," tells 29-year-old Anurith, one of the many Congolese refugees reaching Uganda in early July. Anurith is pregnant, has two children and was separated from her husband and parents during an attack on her village.
UNHCR staff help an elderly Congolese refugee reach the health screening point in Zombo, near Uganda's border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The emergency response in Uganda’s Zombo district happens at a time when the operation is already facing multiple challenges. Uganda has over 1,700 COVID-19 cases, including 68 refugees, and sixteen people have died since the start of the pandemic in March, including two refugees. UNHCR is working on the frontline to deliver critical services and raise awareness on COVID-19 risks and mitigation measures among the refugee and host communities. With only 33 per cent of the budget financed, UNHCR’s operation in Uganda remains severely underfunded.
In support of national efforts to fight COVID-19, UNHCR has facilitated the production of more than 1 million masks by using trained refugee tailors, giving them the opportunity to earn an income during a very trying time. The contribution from Denmark will help UNHCR continue implementation of its COVID-19 response in the country, including providing handwashing facilities and medical supplies. The funding also offers crucial support to deliver critical services in the areas of health care, child protection and support to victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
In DRC, the situation continues to aggravate in the eastern provinces of Ituri and Kivu. Here, more than 4.5 million people have been forced from their homes, and COVID-19 is exacerbating the already dire conditions for the internally displaced. UNHCR has already distributed a total of 118 tons of soap in a large-scale distribution exercise.
With the contribution from Denmark, UNHCR is able to strengthen the COVID-19 prevention measures, including by expanding the installation of handwashing stations, establishing quarantine facilities as well as constructing shelters to help reduce overcrowding and improve social distancing.
Denmark as a donor to UNHCR
Denmark has long ranked among UNHCR’s top ten donors. In 2019, Denmark increased its overall funding to UNHCR, totaling USD 92 million (up from USD 82 million in 2018). Each year, around USD 25 million of Denmark’s funding is provided as completely unearmarked flexible funding.
Within its overall funding, Denmark annually contributes with an Emergency Reserve Fund of DKK 50.5 million (around USD 7.5 million) at the start of each year, which UNHCR can allocate towards the most urgent needs. The flexibility of the fund allows UNHCR to respond to emergencies, which saves lives and assists displaced people with critical protection needs and acute basic necessities.
So far in 2020, allocations have been made to Uganda (DKK 10 M), DRC (DKK 10 M) and to Somalia (DKK 10 M), where more than 650,000 people have been displaced since the beginning of the year, e.g. due to extreme flooding.