Why Uganda is home for refugees

By David Mukholi

Added 29th June 2017 02:13 PM

Uganda is home to more than 1.2 million refugees

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Uganda is home to more than 1.2 million refugees

Uganda has grabbed the attention of the world for it generosity and warm welcome to refugees. 

With refugees from 13 countries and their numbers growing daily, Uganda is now hosting more than 1.2 million of them.

But the question is: is Uganda the best place for Africans fleeing war and political instability in their countries? The quick answer is; the big influx does not only make it Africa’s top refugee-host nation, but also an indictor of stability. So, it can host refugees.

Uganda’s political issues, corruption, poor service delivery and inefficient civil service are a pain, but are not causing instability, violence and war to send people to find refuge in neigbouring countries.

This should be mirrored against countries sending refugees to Uganda which include Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan. It is South Sudanese that make up the largest percentage of refugees in Uganda.

By the end of May, according to the UNHCR, Uganda had about 1,277,476, which is twice the number last year. It shows that many more people are fleeing wars and political instability and finding Uganda a safe haven.

The conflict in South Sudan has uprooted thousands from their homes. It started in 2013 during the fallout between President Salva Kir and the then Vice- President Riek Machar. Although hosting refugees is a strain on national resources, it is a vote of confidence in the country.

When trouble erupts the people run to a safe and stable country. Human instinct dictates that one runs to safety not to danger. Going by this, Uganda is not a dangerous place to live in. Its people are not fleeing out of the country like in the past.

The stability is offering home to Africans forced out of their counties due to harsh conditions as a result of conflict, famine and intolerable governments. In the case of South Sudan, the political disagreements triggered violence, causing devastation, destruction and death.

The warm welcome accorded to the refugees is another factor making Uganda an attractive destination. Besides established camps, the refugees have access to land on which they can work and the children are allowed to attend schools. Several Ugandans in top places have once been refugees and this partly explains the open policy to persons displaced by conflict and persecution. During the days of political instability, Uganda hardly received any refugees just like Somalia, Burundi, DRC and Central African Republic (CAR) would not today. Instead, it’s Ugandans who were refugees.

The wave of Ugandans seeking refuge dates back to the 1960s. During the 1966 crisis some, especially from Buganda, left the country fearing for their lives. In the 1970s, following the overthrow of the Apollo Milton Obote, the new regime went after his supporters and carried out a systematic purge of the Acholi and Langi in the army and civil service.

Unable to run the state, Idd Amin adopted terror, torture and killings to subdue any opposition. This forced many more to leave the country.

Tired of being treated as refugees, they followed the events back home and participated – directly or indirectly in the war against Amin. But upon toppling Amin, they vengefully drove some Ugandans out of the country.

West Nile, which was Amin’s home region, bore the brunt of the new government. Its force unleashed terror to avenge mistreatment and in many cases killing of relatives during the military reign. The reprisal pushed hundreds to cross into Zaire (renamed DRC) and Sudan.

Life in the DRC and Sudan was unbearable. They lived in squalor. It was just like many Ugandans in Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan and Zambia had had a difficult life in the early 1970s and later.

In the 1980s more Ugandans became refugees in the neighbouring countries due to the war in Luwero and parts of West Nile. The war also created Internally Displaced Persons as people had to run out of the Luwero Triangle to other parts of the country.

Also during this period Uganda could not host any new refugees. Those who existed were from Rwanda and had arrived in 1959 due to the ethnic conflict there. It is important to note that Rwandan refugees were sucked into the Uganda conflict and eventually returned home by force of arms.

Comparing the past to today, Uganda is stable and peaceful, which is the reason refugees are finding it a suitable place for refuge.

Tweeter: @dmukholi1


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