“Our refugees not following rules to control spread of COVID 19”: Salesians in Uganda

A Banner at a hospital in Uganda Palbek Refugee Camp.

Members of the Religious Institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) serving in Uganda’s Palabek refugee camp have highlighted some of the challenges they are experiencing as they strive to keep the refugees safe, reporting failure to adhere to COVID-19 precautionary measure on the part of the refugees.

“Our Refugees in Palabek Settlement Camp are not following rules and regulations that could control the spread of COVID 19," Fr. Jeffrey Albert, one of the members of SDB serving in Palabek, a camp in Uganda’s Gulu Archdiocese has been quoted as saying.

According to the Salesians, the three-year-old camp located in the Archdiocese of Gulu, northern Uganda, is “obviously a place of great risk” due to its large population of an estimated 56,000 refugees, majority of them from Malakal and Torit dioceses in neighboring South Sudan.

In a report published Monday, June 15 by Agenzia iNfo Salesiana, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation, with no reported COVID-19 death in Uganda, “It's difficult to raise awareness among a population (refugees) that has not yet personally witnessed the impact of a pandemic of this type.”

Apart from COVID-19 measures, the Salesians are also grappling with the challenge of food shortage and that of poor health services at the camp.


“The reduction of food rations is another evident problem in the settlement: the food available has fallen by 30% and for an adult, it is almost impossible to maintain themselves for a month,” the leadership of SDB has been quoted as saying in the June 15 report.

Lack of sufficient food supplies can “generate frustration, anger and other social unrest," the head of the Salesian mission in Uganda, Fr. Lazar Arasu noted.

Poor health services are a “prime concern” for the Salesians serving in the camp, since there are only three health units with “minimal facilities” serving the more than 56,000 refugees as well as native Ugandans around the area.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, providing medical services is even more difficult, and there is an increase in diseases such as stomach ulcers amid other problems related to poor nutrition, the member of the 161-year-old Religious Order says.

Members of SDB in Uganda are also concerned about the welfare of at least 25,000 children and youths who attend the 11 primary schools, one secondary school and the technical school in the camp, who are home following the closure of educational institutions due to COVID-19.

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“By staying at home, with less food than before, without lessons, without distractions of any kind (facilities for sports and other youth activities have also been closed), children and young people are stuck between anguish and nervousness,” the leadership of the Salesian missionaries in Uganda have reported and added, “Several teenagers and young adults have taken on antisocial attitudes and an unruly sex life.”

With the chapels inside the camp closed, the SDB members note that the inability of the refugees to participate in the liturgy and the community “has meant losing even the minimum of spiritual and psychosocial support that the religious were able and could offer.”

Amid these challenges, the Salesians at the camp continue to do what they can to support the refugees, including distributing food items and books to the students.

"Like the refugees we too look forward to the end of the epidemic and return to normal life, to serve our beloved refugees better,” the head of the Salesians in Palabek, Fr. Arasu has said.

Uganda is Africa’s largest refugee host nation, with an estimated 1.4 million refugees. According to UNHCR, at least 74 percent of them are from the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan.