Luanda (Agenzia Fides) - "After COVID-19 had knocked on our doors in mid-March, JRS was forced to rethink its mission. 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 Corona virus pandemic", says Fr. Celestine Epalango, Jesuit, who works in Angola with the Jesuit Refugee Service's (JRS).
The reality of refugees in Angola, assisted by JRS, is very complex and articulated. In 2017, large numbers of people fled the Kasai Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and entered the north-eastern part of Angola. This forced migration was a result of widespread conflict within the DRC, which caused the internal displacement of 1, 4 million people. At that moment about 35 thousand people escaped into the Lunda Norte Province of Angola.
"For the past 13 years, 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, young single mothers, refugee children who cannot go to school and even those who have no birth certificates, elderly people and refugees and asylum seekers in Angola", underlines Fr. Epalango.
The Covid-19 pandemic prompted JRS to deliver formative materials to refugees in the province of Lunda Norte 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.
In addition, JRS is involved in the promotion of initiatives by refugees to produce more than 6000 masks. This is a concrete way of promoting the economic sustainability of the refugees as well as providing means of combatting the spread of the pandemic. JRS regularly provides hygiene equipment to the refugees, especially those among them who are victims of gender based violence as well as organize sessions of demonstrating good practices of protection and prevention against COVID-19.
Finally, JRS conducts daily visits to the detention centres 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. In Angola there have been 353 Covid-19 cases so far, with 19 deaths and 108 recovered. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 7/7/2020)