By Musa Ecweru
The Government of Uganda is pleased to participate in this workshop with colleagues from the UN and the World Bank.
Our participation is timely. Uganda currently ranks among the top three refugee hosting nations in the world. A mass exodus of refugees from South Sudan last year doubled the population to over one million, making Uganda the leading refugee hosting country in Africa.
In addition, Uganda is now managing the impact of a prolonged drought. Over one-third of Ugandans, some 10.9 million people, are facing acute food insecurity with the country risking real disaster should the first planting season rains fail.
Notwithstanding the pressures created by the unprecedented influx, Uganda is living up to its international obligations to refugees. Our borders remain open and we continue to maintain a progressive approach to refugee management.
Indeed, our presentation will demonstrate that “the new way of working” is not “new” in Uganda. Uganda has prepared the groundwork for creative and innovative solutions, but lacks only critical support from the international community.
Uganda’s tradition of hosting refugees dates back to the Second World War where it hosted refugees from as far as Europe (namely Poland).
Since independence, Uganda has hosted refugees continuously. There has been a constant inflow of refugees from the countries of East and Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region. Uganda offers refugees stability as well the opportunity to thrive as long as they are in exile. Our refugee policy amounts to extending a generous helping hand to them in their greatest time of need.
Uganda admits refugees on its territory irrespective of nationality, ethnicity or religion. They enjoy security and as well as legal, physical and social protection.
We issue refugees identity cards, so that they enjoy freedom of movement. In Uganda, refugees use public health facilities and receive universal primary and lower secondary education.
In Uganda, we do not have refugee camps. Instead, our Government has set aside approximately 1,000 square miles of land for refugee use and the community has donated more. Refugees are allocated land for cultivation to promote self-reliance. Refugee settlements look just like any Ugandan rural village.
Refugees pursue economic opportunities without discrimination. They have the right to work and to establish their own businesses. The government has waived the work permit fee for all refugees.
In Uganda, refugees co-exist with nationals to the extent that an outsider would find it difficult to tell the difference.
In line with the 2030 Agenda principle of not leaving anyone behind, Uganda’s National Development Plan uniquely integrates refugees into national development planning through a Government strategy called the Settlement Transformation Agenda.
We have recognised that in order to sustainably develop the 12 refugee hosting districts, (where refugees can in some districts make up almost half of the total population), it is vital to apply holistic and integrated approaches at district level, while enhancing refugee protection and asylum space. At the core of the Settlement Transformative Agenda is to ensure that settlement based interventions are in tandem with national policies and standards and that settlement interventions are aligned with host District Development Plans.
As a Government, we have already moved beyond the recognition of refugees in national planning to mobilise resources to realise the objectives set forward, by requesting a soft loan of $50m from the World Bank for the implementation of the agenda.
This is the Uganda model. It is enabled first and foremost by the generosity of the people of Uganda - the host communities - and further by Government which takes the responsibility to enhance refugee welfare and protection in accordance with national policy and international standards, assisted by UN, donors, international NGOs and National NGOs.
In Uganda we have created prime asylum conditions and demonstrated our Government’s commitment to the refugee cause, notwithstanding today’s complex global environment. We believe the international community can and should do more to support our efforts.
It is deeply troubling that the humanitarian response to refugees in Uganda is chronically and severely underfunded, even as thousands of refugees continue to enter the country every day.
Uganda is already investing significant domestic resources in the protection, management and social integration of refugees.
Uganda is managing one of the world’s largest refugee crisis, which is exacerbated by the drought and looming famine in the Horn of Africa; with drought and climate change already having an impact on refugees and host populations in Uganda.
It will, however, be difficult for Uganda to continue its progressive policies in the absence of robust support from the international community.
A New sense of urgency for Uganda to be supported to continue its way of working (Key message: the refugee influx and pressure on host communities, coupled with the drought in Horn of Africa, put the Uganda transformational model at risk. Uganda needs the support of the international community to uphold its progressive approach and provides a model for other countries in terms of a new way of working)
There is a need to build on the progress already made in Uganda and ensure that the way of working which transcends the humanitarian-development divide is accelerated and further enhanced. Unprecedented numbers of refugees mean we need to look at new ways of providing protection and assistance and we need creative and innovative solutions that will safeguard the asylum space and promote the resilience and self-reliance of refugees and host communities alike.
As many of you are aware, the President of the Republic of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations will co-convene a Solidarity Summit in Uganda in the coming months, in an effort to share Uganda’s refugee model and to highlight the opportunities for both traditional and new partners to support and invest in Uganda’s refugee hosting districts. This Summit is another example of ‘the New Way of Working’, as we demonstrate our commitment to investing in both Ugandan’s as hosts, and refugees in support of their eventual return. We invite you to come to Uganda, and to see first-hand the ‘New Way’ in practice.
This is not the first time that Uganda is being highlighted as a role model in terms of bridging the humanitarian and development nexus and while we appreciate being commended for our progressive approach we are now as a Government looking forward to concrete outcomes and actions from this forum and other fora that can safeguard the current policy and further augment and consolidate the approach aimed at empowering the refugee and host community resilience.
While awaiting action from the international community, Uganda has moved ahead to put in place the mechanisms whereby the Government takes the lead for coordinating humanitarian and development actors and new partners, including from private sector, for the benefit of every refugee and every Ugandan. They all wait for your support.
Again, I emphasise, refugees are not criminals; they are victims of a non-functional international order. I invite you to Uganda to learn how we manage.
The writer is Uganda’s Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees