Considering the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) global public health crisis, this chapter examines the psychosocial impact of the pandemic on urban refugees in Kampala, Uganda. Based on narratives from 10 in-depth interviews with male and female urban refugees, we analyze how the public health measures and the lockdown make it problematic for them to fulfill their normal social functioning. COVID-19 is perceived to have further exacerbated the isolation of refugees by reducing their interaction with key resourceful social networks. The banning of public transport affected their mobility and access to services provided in settlements given that some urban refugees travel to their designated camps to access food and other benefits. Urban refugees have lost their sources of survival, accumulated debts, and experience feelings of numbness, isolation, and hopelessness. They complained of having difficulty in sleeping and continuous worry. These are happening in a context where there is a paucity of psychosocial support services and limited access to informal social support networks (particularly for refugees). Most of the urban refugees had not benefited from social assistance from the state or nongovernment organizations. Some urban refugees show signs of resilience including a reduction in alcohol consumption to save money for food, adopting alternative food choices, engaging in prayers, and contributing to advocacy platforms. Overall COVID-19 has further weakened the livelihood sources and social networks of urban refugees. Programs for mitigating the effects of COVID-19 should consider the needs and vulnerability of refugees living outside formal refugee settlements who do not access the full package of services provided by UNHCR and other civil society organizations (CSOs). There is a need to prioritize urban refugee’s access to psychosocial support services to further build their resilience to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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Bukuluki, P., Mwenyango, H., Kato, F., Kyamulabi, A. & Bagabo, A. 2021, 'The psychosocial effect of COVID-19 on urban refugees: Narratives from Congolese refugees living in Kampala', Mental Health Effects of COVID-19, pp. 69-87. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-824289-6.00006-4

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Last updated: 17 November 2022
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