By David Lumu and Damali Kisakye
Government and human rights activists have clashed over the status of urban refugees.
This counter-accusation emanates from the findings of a report released by the Refugee Law Project, which states that refugees in Kampala are discriminated and denied opportunities for a better life.
According to the report, these refugees from Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi and DR. Congo, have been reduced to societal rejects. To arrest their “psychosocial challenges” urgent intervention is needed, according to experts from the Makerere University Refugee Law Project think-tank.
“Contrary to the view that any refugee who chooses to live in an urban area does not require support, the findings further demonstrate that those who live in urban areas also require assistance,” said Dr. Chris Dolan, the Director of the Refugee Law Project.
But government insists that it can only extend services to refugees in gazetted areas.
David Apollo Kazungu, the commissioner for refugees in the Office of the prime Minister told New Vision that the category of urban refugee, especially those who stay in Kampala comprises of people who have the refugee status but decide to live on their own.
“Refugees in urban centers remain recognized as refugees who decided to live on their own. They retian the refugee status but government and UNHRC doesn’t cater for them. Now, government intervention is for those in gazetted areas. If they want help, they should go back to gazzetted areas,” Kazungu said.
A total of 153 refugee women and girls were selected and requested to participate in the study, which was conducted in 2013. They considered the vulnerable groups of girls, young women, women with children out of rape, elderly women, unaccompanied minors and survival sex workers.
“Young women feel a lack of opportunities for a better life. Women and girls with disabilities have concerns about inclusion in, and accessing of, mainstream services available for refuges. Women with HIV\AIDs need assistance with medical care,” the report notes.
To earn a living, these refugees, the report, which highlights major challenges that refugee women and girls face in Uganda, notes that women and girls from DRC, Rwanda and Burundi usually vend Bitengi [locally made clothes], shoes and jewelry for survival.
But sometimes their products are confiscated by KCCA officials and some Ugandans, who threaten them with racist slogans such as “you Somali leave our businesses alone” and that when they report to police at Old Kampala station “authorities ignore reports of rapes, beatings and robberies”.
However, police at Old Kampala said that the challenges these refugees face are every day issues that even Ugandans go through.
“These are general problems face by even Ugandans. Their challenge is both ideological and attitude. When it is raining you take shelter. When the owner of the house opens the door and you enter, you become a refugee in that house. So, while there, you abide with the rules. You don’t go into the bedroom without seeking permission from the owner. Refugees in Kampala are inquisitive, they go to the bedroom of the owner without seeking permission,” said Enock Tumwesige, the community liaison police officer at old Kampala police station.
The study was conducted in Uganda’s capital city. The study focused on self-settled urban refugee women and girls in Kampala. In 2011, 35,000 urban refugees were registered with the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC). Out of these, 50% are females and 70% are children under the age of 18 years.
The report calls upon government, human rights bodies, city authorities and other aid agencies to address the problems of these vulnerable girls and women by establishing a resource base.