Over the past 2 months, we have seen an influx of refugees into the country. While statistics continuously change as refugee emergencies wax and wane in different parts of the world, UNHCR reports that Uganda is accommodating the largest refugee population in Africa with an escalating entry each day. These are most times fleeing from torture, death and mistreatment from the neighbors.
An info-graphic from UNHCR shows a rapid increase of refugees and asylum seekers into the country from July last year since fighting erupted between forces loyal to President Silva Kiir and First Vice President Machar. The influx continues to be characterized by a high proportion of women and children (more than 90%). It should however be noted that a refugee is given as much rights to land, resources and access to travel.
Is Uganda capable of handling this crisis?
Right before the borders opened to welcome refugees, the country was finding trouble meeting the needs of its own citizens, especially the people in the Northern region—Several media houses and News publications reported about soaring numbers of people that wasted away and died from hunger because the region was and still is, facing an intolerable wave of drought and famine caused by arid temperatures. And now barely a month from the saddening news, Uganda’s boarders were opened to accommodate over 1 million refugees.
Currently Uganda has 9 refugee settlement camps with Bidi Bidi hosting over 270,000 people at a go, the highest number in any refugee camp across the world.
The Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda has remarked before “Uganda has continued to maintain open borders, but this unprecedented mass influx is placing enormous strain on our public services and local infrastructure.” Isn’t this a crumble to Uganda’s objectives to achieve the Middle Income Status by 2020?
In Uganda, one qualifies for a refugee status when;
- (a) owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, sex, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, that person is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable, or owing to that fear, is unwilling to return to or avail himself or herself of the protection of that country; 7 Act 21 Refugees Act 2006
- (b) not having a nationality and being outside the country of his or her former habitual residence owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, sex, religion, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, that person is unwilling or unable to return to the country of his or her former habitual residence;
- (c) owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either a part or the whole of his or her country of origin or nationality, that person is compelled to leave his or her place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge in another place outside his or her country of origin or nationality;
- (d) owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for failing to conform to gender discriminating practices, that person is compelled to leave his or her place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge in another place outside the country of origin or nationality;
- (e) that person is considered a refugee under any treaty obligation to which Uganda is a party, or any law in force at the commencement of this Act; or
- (f) that person is a member of a class of persons declared to be refugees under section 25 of this Act.
Different countries and officials have offered mixed reactions about Uganda’s lenient refugee policy that requires that instead of refugees being locked in crowded camps surrounded by barbed wire, they are to be given large plots of land in sprawling settlements to build homes or, if they like, small farms.
The pressure from South Sudan is gradually pushing the country’s refugee-friendly policy to its limits. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, has said it needs $569 million (Approximately UGX. 3 trillion) to support refugees in Uganda. It has received less than one-quarter of the amount so far.
The Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees is underway at Munyonyo Resort Hotel, hosted by H.E Yoweri K. Museveni(President of the Republic of Uganda) and António Guterres(United Nations Secretary-General)
Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Adonia Ayebare, says the international community is set to support Uganda in raising money for humanitarian aid to the refugees it is hosting. He further continued to say that “Uganda requires urgent and robust support to deal with the refugee crisis in a humane and sustainable manner until durable solutions are found for the 1.2 million women,men and children who currently need its protection.”
Often times, The UN High Commissioner Filippo Grandi has endevoured to share the reality that may be taken lightly– “The biggest contributors providing a safe haven to the world’s uprooted people are poorer communities.”
In the same line of thought, here are some of the gaps that I think need filling;
- How sustainable is asking for funding? How long will it go on? What if much more is needed ?
- Is the current number of refugees that just crossed into the country the only one the country should expect?
- Should Ugandans look forward to clashes over land?
- Will refugees then be sent back to their countries once all is settled? What if they do not want to go back?
- What is government’s plan for the refugees? (Is there employment set apart for them since they are now receiving education?)
- Will Uganda be able to achieve “Agenda 2030?
Please note that I have nothing against refugees, they are people that have found themselves in the midst of circumstances that are intolerable. As a host community, we look forward to standing together with them and request all help possible from Government, well-wishers, fellow refugee host countries and Non-Government Organisations!