Uganda has started to feel the pinch of hosting an influx of refugees amid acute funding pressures and says international support is urgently needed to help it accommodate the refugees.
Uganda is host to over one million refugees, half of them from neighboring South Sudan where fighting is still continuing. On average 4,000 South Sudanese are said to cross the border daily into Uganda.
The east African country has gained global acknowledgment for its open refugee policy at a time when more and more countries are closing their doors to refugees who are fleeing for their lives.
The other refugees hosted in different parts of the country are mainly from neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi while some are from Eritrea and Ethiopia.
At the African Union Summit in Ethiopia late last month, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni met with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and they agreed to hold conference on the refugee situation next month.
Museveni, according to a State House statement, told the UN Chief that the refugee situation was a posing a growing challenge to the country each day.
On Tuesday, Uganda and the UN refugee agency re-echoed that appeal for international assistance, saying the refugee burden was heavy for the country to carry alone.
“It’s getting a little heavy for us to manage the refugee situation.
“We are constrained and overwhelmed with the numbers,” Hillary Onek, Uganda’s minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, told reporters.
“We have budgetary constraints for hosting, providing food, shelter, water, sanitation, health services, school for children and physiological support to the refugees,” Onek added.
Ajit Fernando, deputy country representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) here said the refugee agency is facing acute funding shortages.
“We are chronically facing underfunding to handle the refuge situation.
“The magnitude is increasing daily.
“We are asking more donors and countries to be part of this cause.
“We need more support,” he said.
The refugee agency and Uganda are appealing for over one billion U.S. dollars to help address the refugee crisis.
However since they launched the appeal last year, they have only been able to raise only 36 percent of the money.
The UN World Food Program last year warned that it was going to be forced to cut food aid to refugees in the country further than the current 50 percent due to severe funding shortages.
Uganda, whose refugee resettlement process is said to be a model for other nations, now hosts one of the largest number of refugees in Africa, putting a significant burden on relief agencies, Ugandan authorities and local populations.
The country argues that there is urgent need by regional leaders and the international community to seek political settlement in South Sudan, which is the biggest generator of refugees.
“We hope peace will return to South Sudan.
“We need the Gambia model [regional military intervention] for those mismanaging their country and causing problems.
“The world must come and act.
“It’s a disgrace to the region,” said Onek.
The regional leaders under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided to deploy troops from its member states to Gambia following the refusal by former President Yahya Jammeh to leave office after his defeat in the December elections. Jammeh finally bowed to pressure and left office for the new leader Adama Barrow.
The violence that broke out again in South Sudan in July last year between the troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar has captured the world’s attention, with refugee numbers crossing the 1.5 million mark, UNHCR figures show.
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