The Government and the international agencies have been asked to recognize, acknowledge and document the contributions of host communities towards the welfare of refugees.
According to Hassan Kaps Fungaroo, the Member of Parliament for Obongi County in Moyo district, when it comes to refugees and humanitarian aid, the contribution of the host communities (which is usually in form of land and sharing of resources) is not usually acknowledged and only that of the international humanitarian organisations is documented.
He gave an example of the refugees in the West Nile region of which Moyo district is part. Fungaroo explained that when refugees arrive in an area, the first people to come into contact with them are not the big organisations, but ordinary people (members of the host community) who welcome them and provide initial care.
He added that in the West Nile region, the locals (especially women) usually start giving them care by providing them with food, water, utensils and helping them construct shelters before the district leaders and humanitarian organizations come in to take over the care for the refugees.
Fungaroo added that unfortunately, as soon as the international agencies come in, they disregard the contribution of the locals who are not shown any appreciation. He noted that this could demoralize the host communities and they may stop providing care, which kills the bottom-up approach to refugee care. This ultimately undermines the building of capacity to transition to self-reliance.
However, he added that the fact that refugees remain hosted on land provided by the locals cannot be taken for granted and therefore, it should be acknowledged as a contribution made by the local communities towards the welfare of refuges. Fungaroo noted that local people even organise and take refugees to camps.
He disclosed that sometimes, there are no official refuge settlements, while in other incidents, some refuges are not even registered and they are hosted by local people.
In addition, Fungaroo said that the fact that host communities live in harmony with the refugees should also be commended.
He made the remarks during a symposium on managing the transition from humanitarian assistance to development aid which took place at the Serena Hotel in Kampala recently.
The symposium was organized by the Makerere University School of Public Health under their ReBUILD project. The project is part of the ReBUILD Consortium, an international research partnership funded by the UK Department for International Development and it aims at improving access of the poor to effective health care and reducing health costs burdens.
They work through the production and uptake of a coherent body of high quality, policy-relevant new research on health systems financing and human resources in post-conflict countries.
At the symposium, Fungaroo made a presentation on bottom-up approaches to refugee care where in he highlighted the role of host communities and why refugees feel comfortable in Uganda.
Fungaroo also noted that one of the problems they face is refugees not respecting the norms of host communities which has brought about conflicts. There is also competition for resources like grass for animals and trees for construction.
He also urged those who provide services to refugees to also include members of the host communities because they are not usually better off.
While closing the symposium later, Fungaroo urged policy makers to be advocates of host communities so that they can be planned for and they also benefit from interventions implemented for refugees.
In addition Nick Hooton, the research policy and practice advisor for ReBUILD-UK, noted that although the discussion was heavy on the Ugandan perspective, it was global in significance because no situation is peculiar to Uganda. He urged participants to match the high quality of dialogue that they exhibited at the symposium with transforming things.
Prof. Charles Ibingira, the principal of Makerere University College of Health Sciences, noted that conflict remains the main drive of humanitarian needs.
He estimated that about 134 million people in the world are under conflict.
Throughout the discussions delegates highlighted the need for proper coordination of all players during conflict so as to achieve impact.