Uganda stops reception of new asylum seekers over COVID-19 fears

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KAMPALA, March 20 (Xinhua) -- Uganda on Friday announced that it has suspended receiving new asylum seekers for the next 30 days over fears that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) may spread into the east African country.

Hilary Onek, minister of relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, in a statement issued here said the directive takes immediate effect and security agencies must ensure strict compliance to the guideline.

Onek said all transit and reception centers in the country shall remain closed to new asylum seeker arrivals for a period of 30 days.

The minister said for the asylum seekers already at the transit or reception centers, they must be screened for COVID-19. He said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) working with partners must ensure immediate availability of screening gadgets and adequate health workers.

He urged UNHCR and partners to establish isolation centers and quarantine spaces at all transit, reception centers and refugee settlements to manage confirmed cases.

Onek said refugee settlement managers must ensure that crowding points within the settlements are decongested immediately or avoided.

According UNHCR figures, Uganda hosts over 1.3 million refugees mainly from neighboring South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.

Uganda's neighbors have registered cases of COVID-19, and it is this spread that the authorities want to stop.

Uganda has not yet registered any confirmed case of COVID-19, but remains on high risk due to travel, trade and social linkages with the affected countries, according to the ministry of health. Enditem

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