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For decades now, Uganda has been a favorable destination for refugees and asylum seekers from neighboring conflict-afflicted areas such as Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The country’s first experience of welcoming refugees’ dates to World War II when 7,000 Polish refugees fleeing the violence in Europe were hosted in Nyabyeya and Kojja in 1942. In 1955, Uganda became deeply immersed in the “refugee problem” after 78,000 Sudanese refugees entered during the Anyanya civil war. This influx was soon followed by the arrival of numerous refugees generated by unrest in the aftermath of the various struggles for independence in Kenya.
After their independence in 1962, Uganda has been hosting an average of approximately 161,000 refugees per year. Uganda is now home to 1.2 million refugees from 13 countries with at least 86% comprising of women and children; these refugees are settled in various refugee settlements in nine districts. It is therefore argued that Uganda’s forward-looking approach is being stretched to its limits. Uganda is currently the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, after surpassing Ethiopia and Kenya in early 2017.
While political perspectives in South Sudan remain bleak, famine has been declared in some parts of the country, further increasing the likelihood of more people fleeing into Uganda, adding pressure to an already worsening humanitarian crisis. The situation in other source countries; upcoming elections in Democratic Republic of Congo, instability in Burundi, Somalia and Eritrea has further induced displacement into Uganda in 2017. Uganda has now become the largest host-country in Africa with over a million refugees.
Although Uganda has progressive policies towards refugees, providing them with land to grow food, the right to work and freedom of movement, there is increasing pressure due to the scale of the crisis. These policies are therefore becoming harder to implement, as funding is still limited, and available land becomes scarce. The delegation of Uganda recognizes that in due time Uganda will, unfortunately, not be able to produce enough funds for the safety and hosting of the countless refugees in the country.
To improvise Uganda has transferred refugees with some income or ability to fend for themselves in urban centers. A commendable level of peaceful coexistence is evident between refugees and host communities in all the settlements. Intermarriages are reported in many settlements, contributing to improved relationships. Government had announced that they will be forced to halve food rations or cash assistance in Uganda and put priority focus on those refugees most in need.
“Around 200,000 refugees who arrived in Uganda prior to July 2015 will have their food rations or cash assistance reduced by 50 per cent from this week,” according to a joint press release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP) and Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister.
As the above statement shows, the UN is in full support of the Ugandan Government’s actions and are doing as much as the government to reduce problems for the refugees.
The conclusions of the study is that as the government of Uganda and UNHCR strive to reduce poverty and mitigate risk for vulnerable refugees and their host communities, the close involvement of key stakeholders, such as district leadership, sector ministries, host communities, and refugees, is imperative. A shift in the philosophy of refugee assistance is also crucial: refugees should be viewed as economic actors in charge of their destiny (development approach) rather than as beneficiaries of aid (humanitarian appro`ach). To ensure impact, the focus should be on transformative investments that will address the pressing needs of refugees and host communities alike and that will jump-start local economies. Further, a comprehensive approach is needed to enhance girls and women’s access to education and livelihoods and to reduce security and safety risks among them. Specific attention and backstopping is needed for urban refugees—especially youth—to enable them to benefit from social and economic opportunities without being exploited or resorting to risky behaviors.
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