Uganda’s policy on refugees not sustainable — Museveni

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South Sudanese refugees in a camp in Uganda

If refugees continue to stream into the country in droves, Uganda with so limited foreign assistance, may not sustain her policy of giving them land, President Museveni has said.

According to a Statehouse statement, Museveni, who was in Nairobi on Friday for the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit, said “whereas Uganda’s liberal policy of providing land is praised, it is not sustainable as land can only be provided if available.”

He added that refugees cannot be seen to enjoy better amenities than the host communities and that “when they leave, the situation of the local communities should not be worse off.”

The summit’s main focus was on Somali Refugees. There was also a deliberation on South Sudan, which happened on the sidelines. Museveni said refugees “were not the problem but the wrong ideology of sectarianism where people are divided along tribal, religious and other grounds” in their countries of origin.

Uganda has been praised world over for having an accommodative refugee policy, with the country now hosting more than 818,254 South Sudanese refugees as at the end of February 2017, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

The number is estimated to reach 925,000 by end of March. The country’s 2006 Refugee Act gives refugees the right to work and travel freely, access Ugandan social services, a plot of land to live on, and a plot of land to farm.

While Ugandans are supportive of this gesture, the fear is that as more refugees stream into the country it may be hard to provide all the assistance needed including land.

In a final communiqué on the situation in South Sudan, the presidents expressed concern about the worsening humanitarian crisis in South Sudan.

“They decided that all necessary measures must be taken to save lives and forestall the famine,” the communiqué said. “Therefore, the summit decided that all humanitarian corridors should be immediately opened without any conditionality to allow safe access to affected populations across the country within a week.”

Uganda’s policy is to allow refugees seek work or employ themselves.

Figures from aid agencies indicate that at least 60 per cent of refugees in the country are self-employed while about 30 per cent were employed. Uganda is hosting refugees from Burundi, Rwanda, DRC, Sudan, and South Sudan.

But Uganda has also benefited from hosting the refugees, according to a last year study conducted by University of California, USAID, and World Food Programme (WFP).

The study showed that the land that the Ugandan government gives one refugee household generates up to $220 (Shs 750,000) annually for the local economy.

It added that each $1 given to refugees through cash assistance creates an additional dollar in Adjumani and an additional $1.50 in Rwamwanja in Kamwenge, where other refugees are being hosted.

The study said more benefits go to Ugandan households – for instance the boreholes or schools set up for the refugees can be used freely by the host communities.

As fighting rages on in Juba, capital of South Sudan, more people are expected to flee to Uganda – and there are fears that even with these benefits, resources might be stretched.

In February alone, according to the UN refugee agency, new arrivals were 56,087 with the average arrivals being 1,800 refugees per day. In November, Bidi Bidi, the largest refugee settlement, was opened 40km from the South Sudan border to Uganda.

By January, it had been filled with more than 270,000 people. UNHCR opened Imvepi settlement in Arua district after Palorinya in Moyo district, which was opened in December 2016, rapidly reached its 135,000 refugee-hosting capacity.

This means the country needs more aid to cope with the bulging numbers. Last year, the US mission to Uganda contributed $40m to help manage the refugee crisis.

©Alleastafrica and The Observer

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