During the just concluded 71st Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 71) which was in September 2016 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, 193 governments committed to help many more refugees to reunite. In this article, we look at what Uganda has done in empowering refugees to become gainfully employed, self-sufficient, and to live in dignity.
“It is my view that an economically empowered refugee is beneficial to the national economy,” said Marcel Tibaleka, Uganda’s Ambassador to Germany and The Vatican.
Five years ago, Moses (not his real name), 39 years, fled with his family to Uganda to escape ethnic violence in North Kivu, in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today, he is employed as a hairstylist at a high-end beauty parlor at the Fairway Hotel in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala.
“Ugandans are very hospitable and welcoming. I make a good living here, and can take care of my family very well,” says Moses, who spent nearly a year in Nakivale refugee settlement in Southwestern Uganda before finding his way to Kampala in search of employment opportunities. “He is very talented and hard-working. We have seen a significant increase in the number of customers since he joined us,” the salon manager says of Moses.
Uganda is currently the third-largest refugee-hosting country in Africa after Ethiopia and Kenya. More than 500,000 refugees from 13 countries are settled in Uganda in various refugee settlements in nine districts, according to a World Bank study on ‘Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration in the Horn of Africa.’ Nakivale is the eighth largest refugee settlement in the world, hosting more than 60,000 refugees, majority of them from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Free healthcare and education
According to Urban Rufugees, a non-governmental organisation, Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, has about 1.72 million inhabitants and the city is home to more than 200,000 registered refugees, but the actual figure may be higher. The NGO has observed that more and more refugees are moving out of refugee settlements and into Kampala, as evidenced by the 31,000 new urban registrants filed in 2014.
Uganda’s 2006 Refugee Act, considered one of the most progressive and generous in the world, provides free healthcare and education in refugee settlements and permits refugees to move freely in the country. Many refugees like Moses have benefitted from Uganda’s open door policy that gives them a chance to start life afresh, in dignity. Refugees are given fertile land to grow food for the entire duration of their stay in the country, and can work or set up businesses to help them become self-sufficient and less dependent on handouts. This has enabled many of them to contribute to the local economy, and rebuild their lives and communities upon return to their home countries.
“It is my view that an economically empowered refugee is beneficial to the national economy and as a nation we should work towards this,” said Marcel Tibaleka, Uganda’s Ambassador to Germany and The Vatican, during a dialogue on “Free Movement of Persons,” held last April in Bonn.
Despite the progressive refugee policy, Uganda is beginning to buckle under the pressure of the continued influx of refugees, particularly from South Sudan. More than 70,000 South Sudanese refugees have fled to Uganda since violence broke out in Juba on 8 July 2016 between government troops of President Salva Kiir and forces loyal to former First Vice President Riek Machar. More than 85 per cent of the new arrivals are women and children, with children comprising 64 per cent. This is putting a strain on host communities, with local government authorities and agencies unable to cope or provide basic and essential services.
In Adjumani district, which hosts the bulk of South Sudanese refugees, the number of refugees has shot up to 170,000, threatening to outnumber the 210,000 registered locals in the area.
“If the population of refugees in Adjumani outnumber the population of the host community, the pressure on the environment and social services will be high,” observes Titus Jogo, the Refugee Desk Officer (RDO) in charge of Adjumani under the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).
David Apollo Kazungu, OPM Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement that people are fleeing because they are afraid for their lives. “Our communities are welcoming them and giving them what we can: land and hope for a better future. But our message to the international community is this: We need your help to meet their basic needs until they are able to stand on their own two feet.”
Access to basic services
In May 2016, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved USD175 million in financing to provide relief to refugee-host communities in the Horn of Africa, including Uganda.
Funding for the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) comes from the International Development Association (IDA) which is the World Bank’s fund for the poorest. It includes USD100 million to Ethiopia, USD50 million to Uganda, USD20 million to Djibouti — all at low to no interest — and a USD5 million grant to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). IGAD will use the money to establish a regional secretariat for forced displacement and mixed migration. The secretariat will support a holistic regional response, backed by data, to influence interventions in both refugee-hosting and refugee-producing countries.
The World Bank is working very closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to seek solutions to the refugee crisis in Uganda, by improving access to basic services, expanding economic opportunities, and enhancing environmental management for communities hosting refugees.
“The generosity of the Ugandan host community in sharing their meager resources and services with refugees over decades, especially in Northern Uganda, is truly remarkable, notwithstanding their own struggles,” said Christina Malmberg Calvo, World Bank Country Manager in Uganda.
“The DRDIP is a first of its kind for the Government of Uganda and will offer much needed relief to the refugee humanitarian response alongside support to host communities to cope better,” said Varalakshmi Vemuru, Senior Social Development Specialist and lead author of a new World Bank report, ‘An Assessment of Uganda’s Progressive Approach to Refugee Management.’
The author adds that in a way the project will enable the Government to provide a ‘generosity dividend’ to the host communities through investments to improve their social and economic well-being.
Source: The World Bank, Uganda Office.