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East African States Asked To Take Refugees Despite Covid-19 Restrictiions.

In the midst of a global pandemic that has shuttered cross-border movements, tens of thousands of refugees remain stranded in the borders between Uganda and the DR Congo, Uganda and South Sudan; Kenya and Somalia, and Kenya with South Sudan. A coalition of refugees’ organisations in the Horn, East and Central Africa (HECA) insist that East African states should open their doors to asylum seekers due to the continued conflicts in Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the international community acknowledges that countries in the region continue to grapple with a genuine public health emergency, Amnesty International through Deprose Muchena proposed that those with support from international partners must put in place mechanisms that respect international human rights and refugee law commitments, including the right to seek asylum.

Governments in the region will have to put in place several measures which include medical screening, testing, preventative and time-bound quarantine facilities at border crossing points to allow access to asylum seekers. A coalition of refugee organisations in the Horn, East and Centra Africa, which boasts 39 members, wants Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda and Tanzania to reopen borders to asylum seekers. Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Somalia closed their borders in March, 2020. In Kenya, the borders with Somalia and Tanzania were shut on May 16, 2020

Many countries implemented restrictions on cross border travel to contain the spread of COVID-19, halting admission of new asylum-seekers into their territories.  Rights groups insist that Governments should temporarily re-open these borders on humanitarian grounds to allow life-saving aid and protection to be provided to the groups of refugees. 

These rights group argue that blanket border closures contravene international refugee law by denying people in need of international protection an effective opportunity to seek asylum. As countries across the world, take inward-looking policies to mitigate and contain a global pandemic that has devastated economies and livelihoods, it's unlikely that the subject of refugees will feature on top of their priorities.