Uganda opened its borders to thousands of people fleeing violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on Wednesday.
Refugees from the DRC were stuck in a remote area since late May after border crossing was disallowed due to coronavirus restrictions.
The Ugandan government agreed to temporarily open the two border crossing points in Zombo on humanitarian grounds.
Hilary Obaloker Onek, Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees in Uganda, ceremoniously welcomed the refugees at the border.
“Our country is small but we still allow them, out of sympathy,” Onek said.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was working with the Government of Uganda and partners to make sure humanitarian assistance, including food and shelter will be available.
The agency said it was also working with border security forces and the Ministry of Health to ensure screening, testing and response measures for COVID-19.
After initial screening, asylum seekers will be transported by UNHCR to an Institutional Quarantine Centre 13 kilometres (8 miles) from the border.
Following the mandatory quarantine period of 14 days in line with health guidelines and protocols, they will be relocated to existing refugee settlements.
In Uganda, refugees and asylum seekers are included in the national surveillance, preparedness, and response plans and activities.
At the border, Congolese refugee Oronyboth Victor said he woke one morning to rebels destroying his community.
“I decided to run away because our neighbours were killed. Our crops and animals were all destroyed,” he said.
As the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt, UNHCR said the needs of refugees and local communities that host them continue to grow and put increased pressure on already overstretched resources.
The UNHCR said the pandemic came at the same time as a 30% food ration-cut for refugees and severe gaps in education, child protection and mental health support due to existing funding shortfalls.