Refugee Rights Must be at the Centre of COVID 19 Response

Refugee Rights Must be at the Centre of COVID 19 Response

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Exactly a month ago, the Kenyan government announced the first case of COVID-19 at the sprawling Dadaab refugee complex located in northeastern Kenya, sparking panic among Non-Governmental Organisations offering humanitarian services in the camps.

While making the announcement, Health Chief Administrative Secretary, Rashid Aman said that the two cases which tested positive were from Ifo and Dagahaley camps.

The world marks World Refugee Day today as many governments across the globe struggle to provide for their population, amid stretched and uncapacitated health systems.

The pandemic has exacerbated matters for the vulnerable population, who for decades have been battling enormous challenges such as lack of income, overpopulation, poor sanitation among others.

However, as African governments enact stringent measures to contain the spread of COVID 29, we must ensure that refugee rights under international laws are not violated. The 1951 Convention which Kenya is a party to offers an array of fundamental freedoms and privileges such as access to healthcare, despite their social-economic status.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, Kenya is home to nearly half a million refugees residing in the refugee camps of Dadaab, Kakuma, and urban areas across the country.

Access to basic human rights such as food, water work, and education, and most importantly access to quality healthcare poses major challenges for refugees not only in Kenya but across Africa. Any gains to fight these challenges over the decades are slowly been eroded daily as the pandemic takes its toll.

The African Union has voiced concerns that that vulnerable populations such as refugees and IDP rights may be forgotten with the engulfing crisis.

The disruption of aid efforts globally will inadvertently further widen-social-economic equalities, further undermining their access to basic human rights.

NGOs and other human rights organisations, although doing a commendable job are facing a daunting task as they seek interventions to keep the virus at bay. The possible spread of the virus especially in the camps, as well as in the surrounding host communities, would be apocalyptic.

Health experts have warned that mass infections would result in a large number of deaths, particularly in people with advanced age and/or underlying illnesses.

Both Dadaab and Kakuma Refugee Camps lack any health infrastructure and are already grappling with overpopulation, congestion, and poor sanitation, a breeding ground for the rapid spread of the deadly virus that has caused global devastation. Practicing social distance for the refugees is almost impossible. Washing hands of hands while facing acute water shortages is another dilemma.

While the government’s decision to close official entry points across the country’s border points is laudable, UNHCR has warned that movements continue through unofficial border crossing points where screening and provision of information are not in place. Already, the government has ordered the cessation of movement into and out of both refugee camps as part of pre-emptive measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the porous borders continue to pose the biggest threat in the fight against the pandemic in the refugee camps, which over the years have been prone to infiltration by undocumented persons.

Just like other neighbouring countries hosting a sizeable number of refugees such as Uganda and Ethiopia, the availability of medical equipment to detect coronavirus and isolation facilities remains a big challenge.

On the other hand, migrants and undocumented refugees living in Nairobi are facing a similar stark reality. Over the years, this highly mobile and ‘invisible’ population has been facing health vulnerabilities due to various challenges of integrating with the host communities. This has been blamed on obvious reasons such as language barrier, lack of valid documents, fear of exposure among other factors.

Recently, the government lifted a 15-day lockdown imposed in Eastleigh, which since the 1990s has earned the moniker, the “little Mogadishu” dominated by the Somali’s.

The densely populated estate has been facing its equal share of water shortages, similar to other estates. Social distancing, just like in the camps is a daunting task putting the lives of children and the older population at risk.

Authorities need to ensure refugees living in the camps and urban areas have access to testing kits, quarantine facilities as well as protective gear such as masks. There is the need to set up and strengthen overwhelmed existing health-care systems, conduct mass testings as well as carry out sensitisation campaigns on the COVID 19.

This World Refugee Day gives the civil society in Kenya an opportunity to form solidarity and strong international mandates not only to highlight their challenges, but assist the most vulnerable such as refugees, IDPs, and migrants who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Authored by: Njambi Wagacha, Programme Manager, Innovation for Change-Africa Hub.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the West Africa Civil Society Institute


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Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.


Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.


Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.


Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.


Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.


George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.


Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.


Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.


Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.


Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.


Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.


Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.


Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.


Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.


Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.


Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.


Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.


Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.


Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.


Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.