Reflecting on the first 6 months of the pandemic responses in terms of refugee protection, Uganda and South Africa have taken diverging pathways. South Africa used the pandemic to start building a border fence on the border with Zimbabwe, initially curtailed all foreign shop owners from opening under lockdown and excluded asylum seekers from emergency relief grants. In contrast, Uganda opened its borders to refugees from the DRC in June, when border closures were still the global norm.

This article examines how Uganda and South Africa govern refugees and migration. The authors examine how the pandemic affects arguably some of the most vulnerable populations, namely refugees and other migrants? And how does the pandemic response link back to pre-existing political interests when it comes to protecting refugees?