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How Jesuit Refugee Service in Angola Has Adjusted in the Wake of COVID-19

Officials of the international refugee organization of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) based in Angola have had to adjust their approaches in order to meet the needs of beneficiaries in the wake of COVID-19, one of the officials has said.

In a sharing published by the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa  (IMBISA) Thursday, July 2, Fr. Celestine Epalango, a Jesuit says, “After COVID-19 had knocked on our doors in mid-March, JRS was forced to rethink its mission.”

He clarifies, “It was not about changing the content of the mission itself. Instead, it was about adjusting our strategies to the new context created by the Coronavirus pandemic.”

The adjustment has involved engaging the refugees in producing face masks while continuing with awareness programs aimed at ending refugee situations, Fr. Celestine says in his reflection.

“JRS is still serving, accompanying and defending refugees in Lunda Norte Province by developing formative materials focused which aim on raising community awareness so as to prevent more refugees or the internal displacement of persons caused by the disruptive effects of COVID-19,” the Jesuit Priest says adding that the information is “disseminated by community journalists on a daily basis.” 

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To foster the economic sustainability of the refugees as well as provide means of combating the spread of the pandemic, he says, “JRS is involved in the promotion of initiatives by refugees to produce more than 6,000 masks with each mask being subsequently sold for about 100 Kwanzas (USD 0.17).” 

“JRS has been providing free legal assistance, psychosocial and spiritual counselling for refugees and asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, orphans, victims and survivors of gender-based violence,” Fr. Celestine recalls the activities of his organization in Angola’s capital, Luanda.

JRS personnel, he adds, “also provide assistance to young single mothers, refugee children who cannot go to school and even those who have no birth certificates, elderly people and refugees.”

However, since March 21, when the country confirmed the first two cases of the coronavirus, members of the JRS in Angola have had to adjust their activities to best serve refugees amid COVID-19. 

The country has recorded at least 291 cases of the pandemic including 15 deaths and 97 recoveries. 

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Reflecting on the COVID-19 restrictions that limit movement of people, the Jesuit Priest based in Angola says that the refugees have been left with tough choices.

“There is a dilemma faced by almost all African countries: either one stays at home and dies with hunger or goes out and is either arrested by the police or can be a victim of COVID-19,” he says and adds, “Refugees in Lunda Norte are also faced with the same dilemma.”

“JRS conducts daily visits to the detention centers to assist in the release of refugees who, having violated the rules of the state of emergency, have been detained. On average, two detainees are released per week,” Fr. Celestine says.

After recording the first case of COVID-19 in March, the Angolan government put in place restrictions including the closure of schools and borders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Angola is in a state of emergency since March 27, declared following the confirmation of coronavirus in the Portuguese speaking country. The declaration has been extended twice after the first expiry date of April 10.

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According to a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report, the Southern African nation is home to over 80,698 refugees.