A refugee receives his COVID-19 vaccination at the Gashora Emergency Transit Mechanism centre in Rwanda. Photo Plaisir Muzogeye
Gashora, RWANDA – On 10 March, Samira Aman, an Ethiopian refugee living in Rwanda, became one of the first refugees in the country to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I feel so privileged,” said Samira, one of more than 300 refugees living at the Emergency Transit Mechanism centre in Gashora, located some 60 kilometres outside the capital Kigali, to receive the first dose of the vaccine.
Samira arrived at the centre two months ago, one of hundreds of refugees that UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has helped leave Libya, where weak rule of law and ongoing conflict have placed refugees in danger from human traffickers, smugglers and militia.
“It means a lot to me to be able to be free like this in Rwanda,” Samira said.
Rwanda’s Ministry of Health rolled out its countrywide COVID-19 vaccination campaign about one week ago, beginning with high-risk groups such as health workers, teachers and older people. More than 230,000 people have so far received their first injection.
The Government of Rwanda determined that including refugees and asylum-seekers in its vaccination plans would be the best way to protect the country of 13.2 million, which has seen nearly 20,000 cases of COVID-19, with 271 deaths.
More than 416 refugees who work for health services across the six refugee settlements in the country along with all the adult refugees currently at the transit centre were vaccinated this week.
“COVID-19 has had an effect on everyone in our country, whether they be Rwandans, foreigners, refugees, or asylum-seekers,” said Olivier Kayumba, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Emergency Management. “Vaccines are for everyone, and they are being distributed as they become available.”
UNHCR, which has urged all countries to include forcibly displaced and stateless people in their vaccination programmes, praised the Rwandan government’s efforts. Of the 151 countries currently developing COVID-19 vaccination programmes, 106 have explicitly included refugees and 33 are in the process of doing so.
“Ensuring that refugees are included in the vaccine programme is key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ahmed Baba Fall, UNHCR Representative in Rwanda. “Their inclusion in the national vaccination rollout is another mark of the Government of Rwanda’s generosity and humanitarian commitment towards the cause of refugees and asylum-seekers.”
Abdulbasit and Zainab, who left Libya and now live in the centre with their two children, were relieved to get their first shot.
“As a father of two, getting my first vaccine dose is gratifying. It’s even exciting,” Abdulbasit, 21, said.
Abdelbagi Hussein, a Sudanese refugee, said he thought he would have to wait until he settled in another country to receive his first shot.
“I hadn’t imagined being vaccinated so soon,” he said. “I can’t find a word to say thank you to the Rwandan government. I really thank them very much from the bottom of my heart.” - UNHCR