If well-monitored and guided, refugees can work with all the partners to have aid come directly to them. This way, proper management could be seen
By Aggrey Nyondwa Kikobera
Uganda has been hailed world over for its open door policy on refugees. United Nations and its member states during last year’s Summit sang praise at how kind and hospitable this country is towards people who are not its own.
No wonder $350m was raised to help in responding to the refugee influx in the country. All this acclamation lies on the background that Uganda currently hosts over 1.6 million refugees from over 12 countries. No country, other than Turkey and Pakistan has been this gracious in the world.
It is, however, one thing to have many refugees hosted in your country, and another to let them be as free and entitled as the natives. Turkey and Pakistan might have bigger numbers than Uganda, but the refugee entitlements are totally different. In Uganda, the refugee law is clear, all refugees are entitled to social and public services such as education, healthcare and are free to go anywhere in Uganda.
They have a right to own land, farm on these plots and do business just like any other Ugandan. To many, this is mind boggling as it seems a little too much kindness, given that many nationals continue languish in poverty. According the Refugee Act 2016, refugees are also human beings and deserve better, just like anyone else, to this I agree.
Article 29 (1) (e) of the Refugee Act, refugees have a right to acquire assets and property, education, practice agriculture, industry, join professions and seek employment opportunities, sub-section two of the same article further calls for the protection of refugees, their property and businesses as accorded to the nationals. All this tells of how rich and angelic Uganda’s refugee policy is; no wonder many countries have been dying to adopt the same.
With the recent scandal in Office of the Prime Minister, however, Uganda risks losing all the glory and international applaud for being a safe hub for properly managed refugees and refugee programmes. The scandal comes at a time when the country needs more funds since more refugees flow in every day and the impending drought, especially in Northern Uganda.
The UN report that revealed this scam highlights mismanagement of refugee funds and dubious refugee figures. The magnitude of this fraud is yet to be established, but be it of whatever magnitude, it would be evident that someone somewhere is not fit to be handling or managing refugee issues.
At 1.6 million or 1.3 million (number registered by biometric system hence believable by UN), the refugee community in Uganda is bigger than the population of many autonomous states. Trindad and Tobago, Estonia, Iceland, Swaziland, you name it, all have a population equal to or less than that of the refugees in Uganda. These, however, are states which run their own affairs and sufficiently plan for their people. You seldom hear such cases like corruption and mismanagement. This is because whatever they do is their own, they do it with love and passion, with patriotism.
Since refugees have been given chance to attain education even to the highest of levels, most of them would have the knowledge and skills, adding to passion and information, refugees will take over and overwhelmingly deliver in programme implementation far much better than some individuals targeting to steal from them. They understand their situation and problems better than anyone else. A Congolese refugee lamented in the papers yesterday thus.
“Some of the poor refugees cannot access information centres to learn about programmes meant for them” Pecos Kulihoshimusikami Pecos, a refugee from Congo, said.
The scam in OPM could cost this nation a great deal of aid, yet refugees keep storming the country month after month. The influx continues to grow with over 200,000 refugees coming in from DR Congo a few weeks ago. This means the Government (Now more than ever) needs the funds from the donors; UK, European Union and US who have since the scandal was revealed threatened to withdraw the funding.
OPM denying the allegations and officials pointing fingers back to UN and its agencies might not be the solution. They should instead find the culprits, bring them to book, but most importantly lay strategies and measures to ensure that this does not happen again.
The Government should not stop at the utopic refugee policy, but should also consider more inclusion of refugees in implementation of their own programmes. If well-monitored and guided, refugees can work with all the partners to have aid come directly to them. This way, proper management could be seen. As the Baganda say, Omugabuzi teyeseela loosely translated that the one who serves always ensures to take the biggest portion.
The writer is a social and political critic