No one wants to choose to be a refugee, but many are forced to do just that. They flee violence at home, face restrictions in their new country, and are usually dependent upon others for food, water and health care.
But Uganda, a country hosting more than 1.1 million refugees and asylum seekers, is trying to ease their burdens with what many analysts call its “progressive” refugee policy.
Senior settlement officer in the Ugandan prime minister’s office, Solomon Osakan, works with the U.N. humanitarian agency to coordinate refugee operations in the country. He says Uganda’s approach comes from a Pan-African mindset of helping Africans in trouble, which currently includes those in neighboring South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi.
“So, I think this policy emanates from our leaders,” Osakan said. “Previously, many of our leaders were displaced as refugees, they sought asylum in neighboring countries, and went as far as Europe. In that time, this changed their perception in thinking that when you are a refugee, you need to be supported to survive; otherwise, hostility only worsens.”
Uganda has refugee “settlements,” not camps. Host communities have donated much of the land for these settlements. Refugees receive a 50-by-50-meter plot for shelter and cultivation, enjoy freedom of movement, receive employment waivers in order to work and can start businesses.
“It is good, because here, in Uganda here, we are feeling good,” said Joyce Alua, 19, who says she fled gun violence in South Sudan in July 2016 while she was pregnant. “There is no fighting like South Sudan. And other things, also, they are good.”
Critics: ‘Outsiders’ take jobs
But not everyone is pleased. Near the recently opened Imvepi settlement, some local people complain that so-called “outsiders” are getting the jobs, not them.
“But the bad thing here is we are lacking of jobs,” said Charles Acema, 35, who says he has lived in the Imvepi area his entire life. “Those who are here, they do not give the jobs for us.”
The United Nations and Uganda’s government responded that many of the jobs in the settlements require skills that not always found in the local communities.
Despite his grievances, Charles Acema says he is happy his country is hosting refugees.
“Us, we know that Uganda is a God-loving country,” he said. “That is why they welcome refugees here …”
U.N.: Funds needed
Still, many refugees here complain of food shortages. The United Nations has cited underfunding as the problem. Last year, food rations were cut by 50 percent for refugees who arrived prior to July 2015, except for the particularly vulnerable.
The United Nations says it requires roughly $500 million dollars for its 2017 Uganda operations, but as of mid-March, it had received about $35 million, seven percent of the total.