JOHANNESBURG – The UN Refugee Agency on Friday welcomed the Rwandan government’s vaccination this week of 416 refugees – one of the first countries in Africa to do so.
In a statement on Friday, the agency said nearly one year since the country’s first registered Covid-19 case and as part of Rwanda’s national vaccination drive, the Rwandan Ministry of Health inoculated 224 refugees residing in the emergency transit mechanism (ETM) centre in Gashora and 192 refugees in six refugee settlements.
Some 230,000 people in Rwanda have been vaccinated against Covid-19 one week after a countrywide campaign began.
“We commend Rwanda’s inclusion of refugees in its response to the pandemic,” said UNHCR’s regional bureau director for the East, Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes, Clementine Nkweta-Salami.
“We appeal to all countries to include refugees in their vaccination programmes on par with nationals to ensure that everyone is safe.”
There are nearly 138,000 refugees hosted in the country, mainly from the Congo and Burundi.
According to the agency, the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine was being given to high-risk groups, such as health workers, teachers, elderly people with chronic health issues, those aged over 65 years and other front-line workers.
The UNHCR reiterated that refugees, internally displaced and stateless people and their local host communities must be included on an equal footing with citizens in all national responses to the pandemic, including public health access, vaccines and social safety nets.
National authorities are responsible for public health responses and Covid-19 vaccination programmes, it said.
“We are aware that of the 151 countries currently developing national Covid-19 vaccination strategies, 106 have included refugees and asylum seekers in their plans and 33 are in the process of doing so,” Nkweta-Salami said.
Safeguarding refugee health also protects the health of their host communities and societies. It is not in the interest of any community, state or for the world at large to have people falling through the cracks, the UNHCR said.
The ETM centre was set up in mid-2019 by the government of Rwanda, the UNHCR and the African Union, to evacuate refugees and asylum seekers trapped in Libya, providing them with a vital lifeline and a safe and organised pathway to longer-term solutions. Presently, 303 refugees and asylum seekers are staying at the ETM.
– African News Agency (ANA); Editing by Yaron Blecher