Frequently Asked Questions – COVID-19

This document consists of a compilation of all frequently asked questions and their answers about UNHCR response to COVID-19 in Rwanda.

Frequently Asked Questions – COVID-19


On 31 December 2019, the National Health Commission of China declared an outbreak of a novel coronavirus disease now known as COVID-19 in Wuhan, Hubei Province in China. On 30 January 2020, the WHO Director-General declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) based on the advice of the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations (IHR, 2005), making it the 6th event for which WHO has declared a PHEIC since the IHR came into force in 2005.

As of 06 April 2020, countries had reported around 1,290,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus and 70, 624 deaths had been reported. Rwanda reported the 1st case of COVID-19 on 14 March 2020. Since then, the Ministry of Health has confirmed 104 cases (of whom 4 have recovered and been discharged) as of 05 April 2020 23:59.

UNHCR is stepping up health, water, sanitation, and hygiene services to protect refugees and displaced people. In Rwanda, we are working with government, which leads the coronavirus response, to ensure that people forced to flee are included in preparation and response plans.

This document consists of a compilation of all frequently asked questions and their answers about UNHCR response to COVID-19 in Rwanda. It is both designed for our external audience and our persons of concern. This document will be updated as more questions are raised, and as more information becomes available.

Part I. FAQs for the General Public

  1. Is there any refugee infected with coronavirus in Rwanda?

No. As of 22 April, 150 persons confirmed with COVID-19 (of whom 84 have recovered and been discharged) while 2 refugees were suspected but tested negative.

  1. What is UNHCR doing in terms of COVID19 preparedness measures?

UNHCR is reinforcing prevention measures through

(1) Disseminating messages and visuals for the public on basic protective measures against the new coronavirus;

(2) Strengthening infection, prevention and control activities across UNHCR and partners’ offices and the refugee camps/Transit Center/Reception Center;

(3) Adopting a business and operations continuity plan for UNHCR including partners and designation of essential staff with specific responsibilities;

(4) Preparing a COVID 19 preparedness and response plan;

(5) Disseminating Information through different modalities of relevant information and actions taken on COVID 19; and

(6) Coordinating with relevant government authorities (Ministry of Health, Ministry in charge of Emergency Management) and WHO and other UN agencies.

  1. What are the hygiene measures taking place in refugee communities to prevent COVID disease?

The following are hygiene measures in place to prevent COVID:

(1) Maintaining social or physical distancing (at least 1.5 meters apart from each other), avoiding large crowds and public gatherings;

(2) WASH hands frequently with clean water and soap;

(3) Cover mouth with the elbow flexed arm when you sneeze and cough;

(4) Avoid greeting others with hand check or hugging;

(5) Screening at the entrance of the camps by health workers; and

(6) provision of soap and handwashing stations in all public areas.

  1. What are the channels in place to communicate with refugees?

The UNHCR operation in Rwanda uses different communication channels to communicate with communities (CwC). These include (1) Social Media (Mainly Twitter and Facebook) (2) Information, Education, Communication (IEC) material (banners, posters, animations etc.) (3) Bulk SMS, (4) WhatsApp broadcast, (5) mobile radio, speakers and through (6) community leaders and community health workers (CHWs) and by telephone contacts and the use of notice-boards in camps and at Transit Centres. 

  1. How does UNHCR operation in Rwanda communicate with communities on COVID-19?

UNHCR in Rwanda is taking the following steps in communicating with communities about COVID-19: (1) Awareness raising on COVID-19, its prevention through promotion of community and individual health and hygiene practices using Ministry of Health’s Rwanda Biomedical Center-approved guidelines and tools; (2) Communication on preventive and supportive measures put in place in camps and districts and at the national level; (3) Engage community leaders (central committee, religious leaders, CHWs, all partners staff, groups of women, volunteers, youth, etc.), including urban refugees and students; and (4) Strengthen the existing feedback mechanism. Broadcasting of messages using public address systems and megaphones, and televising COVID-Prevention messages on screens/television at the health centres.

  1. How does UNHCR ensure that refugee communities participate in the COVID-19 awareness-raising efforts?

UNHCR engages refugee community leaders in all awareness-raising activities. Critical partner and UNHCR staff continued monitoring. Where access is constrained this is also done remotely

  1. How is UNHCR preparing for any possible outbreak in a refugee camp?

In partnership with One UN and WHO and the Government of Rwanda, UNHCR has developed a COVID 19 preparedness and response plan, which is in place to support the national coronavirus prevention and response plan. UNHCR contributed 50,000 USD to support the national COVID19 contingency plan and also provided one ambulance to the Nyamata district hospital and one Toyota land-cruiser to Hyue district to support the referral system both for refugees and host communities. Other 4 used hardtop will be given to Karongi district as well.

  1. What will UNHCR do if a case is detected in a refugee camp?

In close collaboration with district health authorities and the Ministry in Charge of Emergency Management, the established COVID 19 protocols and SOPs on surveillance, medical referral, and case management shared by the MOH will be followed and strictly implemented.

  1. How does UNHCR coordinate on this issue with other UN agencies and NGOs working in the camp(s)?

UNHCR coordinates with other agencies under the leadership of the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office and with the relevant authorities. Coordination meeting among partners working in the camps is done regularly and on different levels (camp, district, and national/Kigali level)

  1. If dealing with an urban caseload, how UNHCR is reaching out to refugees?

UNHCR will ensure that (1) key messages are disseminated of key information through existing communication channels (Bulk SMS and WhatsApp broadcast lists), (2) community leaders are engaged, (3) UNHCR and key partner Staff contact are shared with PoCs for ease of access to address urgent matters, (4) Essential partner staff accessible to address urgent concerns, (5) The community centre is closed, but UNHCR and partners are reachable through dedicated phone lines for general counseling.

  1. Are refugees included in preparedness and response health plans in Rwanda, and if so, how?

Discussions and consultations have been made at the field level; open communication ongoing with refugee leaders to share prevention and response plans


Part II. FAQs for Refugees in Rwanda

 Does Rwandan Government’s directives on COVID-19 also apply to refugee camps and transit/reception centers?

Yes. Following the directives from the Government of Rwanda, the national preventive and response measures outlined in the national contingency plan will be enforced across all refugee camps and transit centres with immediate effect, started as of Saturday, 14 March 2020, 23:59, until further official notice.

  1. What happened to schools and other educational places in refugee camps?

All primary, secondary schools, Early Childhood Development Centres and Child-Friendly Spaces in the refugee camps and transit centers have been closed as of Monday, 16 March 2020, and remain closed until further official notice.

The Government of Rwanda through the Rwanda Education Board (REB) have ensured short-term measures in place to ensure learning opportunities for students.  Currently, most materials are being developed for radio, which has the greatest potential to reach the most students, but the Government has started a new approach to develop television materials, particularly in science subjects that require demonstration of various experiments. These focus on mathematics and science experiments to complement other remote learning content.

  1. Will worship places be open in refugee camps?

No. Places of worship will remain closed for any mass gathering. Please pray at home.

  1. Is there any restriction on mass gathering?

There is ample evidence that mass gatherings can increase the risk of transmission of infectious diseases such as Coronavirus (COVID 19). Therefore, the Government has banned the congregation of many people. This includes prayer congregations, pilgrimages, cultural gathering, sports and musical events, weddings, parties, and non-food markets.

  1. How will the refugees collect food if a mass gathering is prohibited?

UNHCR & WFP is putting in place operational guidelines to minimize the chance of transmission and contacts of COVID-19 and effectively respond to the food needs of individuals and communities in refugee camps and transit centres. The revised set-up of and process flows include measures for physical distancing and Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures, such as strict use of hand washing, disinfection of sites, temperature checks and isolation facilities. It will also include a temporary suspension of biometric identity verification through finger-print readers and Iris scans. Where logistically feasible in terms of preparations and time required, WFP will prepare ‘kits’ of family rations in advance of the distribution cycle. Supplementary foods will be distributed twice a month.

In some refugee camps, the distribution strategy has been revised; several infrastructures in the camp are used for cash payment in respect of the prevention measures and mass gathering. Refugees are withdrawing cash in small groups. The social distance is followed and should be monitored. Regarding in-kind distribution, it is also organized in small groups in different sites to avoid the crowd.

  1. What about funeral arrangements?

Funerals are to be carried out by close relatives only, avoiding any gathering of extended family members and close friends (up to 10 people). The borders are open for commercial reasons only, and you will not be able to carry the bodies of your loved ones back to their country of origin during the COVID-19 lockdown.

  1. Can refugees travel within Rwanda?

On 21 March 2020, the Office of the Prime Minister suspended all movements of people living in Rwanda. Movement on public transport has also been suspended until 30 April 2020 (expandable), including moto-taxis, taxis, minibusses, and buses. The use of private transport is also limited to essential services such as healthcare, food shopping, or banking and for personnel performing such services.

Refugees in an asylum country have social rights, but they also have obligations. All refugees have the obligation to respect all rules, regulations, and laws in the country of asylum. As a results, all refugees in Rwanda have the obligation to respects measures on the restrictions of movement and cannot travel within Rwanda.

  1. Can refugees travel outside / into Rwanda?

No. Rwanda has announced a temporary ban on the entry and exit of foreign nationals, including refugees and asylum seekers, through its land, or ports. Only cargo trucks can cross the borders, provided that crew members do not exceed three people. The country has also halted all incoming and outgoing flights until further notice.

  1. Given that the Government of Rwanda has announced to close its borders, how would new asylum seekers/refugees enter the country?

Although the borders are closed, the Government of Rwanda has stated that they would be open to receive persons in need of international protection. Any new arrival, during the current COVID-19 lockdown, as prevention measures, s/he will be put on quarantine, the national protocol would be applicable. UNHCR and partners maintain close contact with community networks to identify any new arrivals.

  1. What about people who are already at the transit and reception centres?

Refugees and asylum seekers, who are already at transit and reception centres will be screened for COVID-19 and receive basic health care. Anyone suspected (e.g. dry cough, fever, shortness of breath) will be assessed further and could be referred, isolated, and tested following the Ministry of Health protocol. Registration of asylum seekers currently at transit and reception centres will continue, in adherence to the protocols from the Ministry of Health.

  1. Will workplaces be closed in refugee camps?

According to the Prime Minister’s directives, only farmers working in the fields may continue their work but observing guidelines from health authorities. All shops and markets are closed, except for those selling food, medicine (pharmacies), hygiene, and cleaning products, fuel, and other essential items. In refugee camps, markets are still open to give access to food to the refugees. However, all entries and exits of the markets and the camp are furnished with soap and handwashing facilities.

  1. Will health facilities in the refugee camps and transit centres stay open?

Yes. Health facilities will remain open in all refugee camps and transit centres. Refugees visiting these facilities must observe guidelines from health authorities. If you observe symptoms like coughing, sneezing, flu, and fever, immediately go to the nearest health facility. Please ensure that you cover your nose and mouth with your elbow flexed arm or with hands or cloth when sneezing and coughing then wash your hands properly. Avoid handshaking or being close to people, including family members on your way to the health facility.

  1. Will UNHCR continue resettlement travels?

UNHCR and IOM have immediately put on hold all resettlement activities related to out-processing, such as cultural orientation, pre-departure medical clearance, face to face resettlement interviews and resettlement departures, until further notice. This is a temporary measure taken considering the COVID-19 global health crisis and restrictions around international air travel.  Please immediately report any offers or promises of taking you out of the country.

  1. How can refugee protect themselves from COVID-19 or Coronavirus?

Refugees can prevent getting infected if you do the following: (1) Regularly wash your hands with water and soap; (2) Avoid contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath); (3) Avoid touching your, face, nose, eyes and mouth with unwashed hands; (4) Stay at home (5) Avoid physical contacts, such as shaking hands and hugging; (6) Maintain social distancing at water collection points, health centres, and at food/gas collection point; (6) Cover the nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing with a tissue, handkerchief or flexed elbow. Throw used tissues in the bin and thoroughly wash your handkerchief with water and soap before using it again; (7) Avoid unprotected contact with wild or farm animals; (8) Avoid going to crowded places; (9) Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces such as door handles and phones.

Remember, the best way to be safe is to STAY AT HOME to protect yourself and others.

  1. How is Coronavirus spread?

The Coronavirus is transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets (from coughing and sneezing) and contact from objects contaminated by the droplets. As such, keeping a social distance of at least one meter and avoiding handshakes and hugs and frequent hand washing help to prevent contracting coronavirus.

  1. What should a refugee do in case of flu-like conditions?

If you observe symptoms like coughing, the difficulty of breathing, and fever, immediately go to the nearest health facility or call 144, a toll-free line for COVID-19 related issues. Please ensure that you cover your nose and mouth with your elbow flexed arm or cloth or hand when sneezing and coughing then wash hands properly. Avoid handshaking or being close to people, including family members on your way to the health facility.

  1. Where can children living alone without any caregiver or adult receive services or support?

UNHCR and partner services remain available for emergency and urgent concerns for children at risk, including those separated from parents or other family members. Such children can directly approach UNHCR on the protection line number 0788313705 in Kigali or our child protection partners in the field for support. If you let us know where you live, we can refer you to the partner directly, and they will contact you as soon as possible.

  1. Will refugees be able to report SGBV incidents and receive appropriate support amid this COVID-19 crisis?

Yes, refugees shall be able to report and get multi-sectoral assistance even during the COVID-19 crisis. Lifesaving SGBV interventions should continue to ensure critical SGBV response services are always available for those who are in need. You could contact the UNHCR’s implementing partner such as ALIGHT for assistance if you are an urban refugee or asylum-seeker in Kigali or Huye cities. You could also contact our Protection Helpline (0788313705) to get more information and referrals.

In Mahama refugee camp, UNHCR and protection partners in charge of SGBV have a mechanism in place to support all survivors of SGBV. The community-based approach is used in addition to the following hotlines:

  • Toll-free line Alight: 4433
  • Toll-free line Save the children: 8855
  • Toll-free line LAF: 1022/845
  • UNHCR Hotline: 0788 315 023


Part III. FAQs for Urban Refugees

  1. What do you plan to support urban refugees in this COVID-19 lockdown?

UNHCR is aware of the current difficult living conditions with COVID-19 preventive measures.  Some people need emergency assistance during this lockdown period to ensure hygiene, food, and nutrition, especially for the vulnerable low-income refugees.  For the time being, UNHCR has few resources to support only a limited number based on certain criteria but is doing whatever possible to financially assist people to comply with the confinement instructions.

  1. What criteria are based on while choosing a refugee to get exceptional financial assistance?

At the initial stage, UNHCR assisted the most vulnerable refugees already known by the office and/or referred by the implementing partners and some camp-based refugees stranded in Kigali. UNHCR uses its existing database for the identification of eligible cases.

  1. My phone contact has changed after registration/verification, how can I share the one I’m using now

Refugees whose contact details are not registered together with personal information in UNHCR data base are advised to proceed with sim swap whenever possible to get the phone number initially registered with UNHCR corrected.  If this option in not possible, please share with UNHCR your new telephone number and it will be updated in Progress.

  1. How can I be supported to relocate from urban to the camp?

UNHCR is aware that the lockdown policy was introduced while some camp-based refugees were out of the camp for different reasons (education, work, medical, family reasons, etc.).   With the imposed strict lockdown, UNHCR is not in a position to facilitate your return or your transfer to the camp, and we request you to comply with the government instructions.  UNHCR is taking note of your concern, and we shall deal with your request when the confinement is lifted.

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World Health Organization has declared Coronavirus or COVID-19 a global pandemic. We strongly urge you to strictly follow the advice of health professionals in refugee camps and transit centres and protect yourself from getting sick.

Coronavirus is dangerous, it spreads fast and can lead to death. Be safe, stay home, and support one another.

For more information and reporting COVID-19 symptoms:

Call the Ministry of Health toll-free line on 114.

For general inquiries: send an email to [email protected].