African countries need to ensure that the health of refugees is protected during the COVID-19 pandemicPosted: 21 June, 2021
Author: Omotunde Enigbokan
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
The protection of the right to health for refugees in Africa requires urgent attention, especially in this period when evidence shows that new variants of the coronavirus are spreading. As we celebrate World Refugee Day on 20 June 2021, and against the backdrop of the UNHCR’s theme ‘Together we heal, learn and shine’, it is pertinent that we interrogate how African countries are ensuring that the right to health for refugees, is guaranteed. This is particularly important with the development of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, and in the onset of the administration of these vaccines in Africa.
Challenges faced by refugees in Africa
Existing research underlines the need for heightening refugees’ access to health facilities. Research further shows that refugees have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa. This situation is further compounded by the fact that many refugees live in overpopulated camps or reception centres, where they lack adequate access to health services, clean water and sanitation. This makes them more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
World Refugee Day – 20 June 2014
The number is 313 375, more specifically, as of mid-2013 the number we gathered from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was 313 375. That is the number of people from a population of 5 million who have at great risk to their lives, left their country to become refugees and asylum seekers in unknown lands. Since independence Eritrea has lost 6% of its population and is currently notoriously known as the tenth highest refugee producing nation in the world (UNHCR). Why are Eritreans fleeing their homeland by the thousands every month? According to the latest figures, 4 000 flee Eritrea every month.
Firstly, let it be asserted from the onset that Eritrea is not at war, but, its current default mode of perpetual war preparedness has proven as destabilising and terrifying to the country as an actual state of war. Having bravely “liberated” itself from Ethiopia in 1991, Eritrea found itself in a bitter border dispute with Ethiopia only 7 years later with a war lasting from 1998 to 2000.This dispute is a historical turning point for Eritrea as it created the platform from which to justify the sustained creation of a militarised society. In 1995 a government decree applied national service which was both compulsory for anyone from the age of 18 to 50 years. Many people were forcibly rounded-up from the streets, from their homes and torn away from their children to report for military service.