Restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 in East and Central Africa have left large numbers of migrants stranded. Human rights and refugee groups say the borders should be reopened for asylum seekers.
A coalition of international, national and refugee-led organizations is calling on countries in the Horn East and Central Africa to reopen borders to admit those seeking protection. African states began closing their borders in March to try to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The 39 organizations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, say containment measures failed to safeguard the interests of people forced to seek asylum. They say governments must find solutions that “respect international human rights and refugee law commitments.”
Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Somalia closed their borders in March. In Kenya, the borders with Somalia and Tanzania were closed in mid-May, and some of those who have succeeded in crossing into Kenya have been arrested and returned to the border, according to Amnesty International.
Along the Congo-Uganda border, around 10,000 people have been camped out since last month waiting to seek asylum in Uganda, Amnesty adds.
Blanket border closures go against international refugee law by denying people the right to seek protection, Amnesty says. Governments should instead consider introducing “workable protocols for COVID-19 screening, testing and quarantine” which would continue to allow migrants access, said the organization's Deprose Muchena.
Lydia Zigomo, Oxfam Regional Director, said the international community had a duty to help displaced people, “no matter which side of the border they are on.”