Uganda closed its borders on Wednesday to new refugee arrivals as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus in a country that long kept its doors open to those fleeing conflict and other troubles in the region.
The east African country hosts roughly 1.4 million refugees mainly from neighbours where conflict and civil war uprooted tens of thousands.
Most refugees in Uganda come from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.
“Whereas Uganda has an open door policy for refugees and asylum seekers, Uganda has suspended receiving new arrivals with immediate effect,” a government statement said.
“Refugees already in the country will continue to receive support.”
According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR about 13 500 refugees arrived in Uganda so far this year.
Uganda won international plaudits for its liberal refugee policy that maintains open borders and allocates land plots to individual refugee families.
Kampala grants refugees free movement and employment, as well as public services including free education and healthcare.
Some refugee camps are crowded and coronavirus containment measures such as social distancing could potentially prove hard to enforce and a possible outbreak difficult to control. Uganda has reported 14 cases so far.