Refugee Challenge: A Growing Burden on a Debt-Strained Nation
Uganda, long recognized for its open-door policy towards refugees, faces an increasing challenge as its resources strain under the weight of a growing refugee population. The Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness, and Refugees, Mr. Hilary Onek, has called upon the international community to provide more assistance in handling the escalating refugee crisis.
Mr. Onek highlighted the reduction in financial support from international organizations for managing refugee affairs. Insufficient food aid from organizations like the World Food Programme has left many refugees malnourished, pushing some to resort to desperate measures, such as theft, to survive.
While Uganda has registered 245 refugee partners, only a meager 30 percent of the funds received from these partners are directly allocated to refugees in Uganda. This dire situation has prompted the government to consider addressing the issue with the respective governments of these partners.
During a press briefing attended by the European Union Ambassador to Uganda, Mr. Jan Sadek, Mr. Onek suggested that, given Uganda’s current financial constraints and the shared services with refugees, countries like the EU, European nations, and the United States could consider debt forgiveness to help Uganda manage the crisis more effectively.
To alleviate the refugee burden, the government is in negotiations with the World Bank to secure an additional $280 million (Shs1 trillion). This funding is intended to extend support to transit districts for refugees, ensuring that essential services can meet the needs of the growing refugee population.
According to documents submitted to the Presidential Affairs Committee, Uganda invests approximately $1.3 billion annually in the refugee response, covering infrastructure, security, education, and other services required by both refugees and host nationals. Notably, a significant portion of Uganda’s contribution, Shs4 trillion, is attributed to the exploitation of wood fuel.
Mr. Onek has proposed an emphasis on local content in refugee interventions. Encouraging the hiring of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and restructuring the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to employ more Ugandans can help reduce the financial burden.
Mr. Peter Okot, the Democratic Party whip at Parliament, voiced concerns about refugees crossing multiple countries to reach Uganda. He stressed the need to inform the international community about the tremendous burden Uganda has shouldered and requested an increase in financing to support the refugees.
Refugee Statistics in Uganda:
- Total refugees in Uganda: 1.568 million.
- Gender distribution: 52 percent female, 48 percent male.
- Residence: 92 percent live in settlements, 8 percent in urban centers.
- Refugee origins: 57 percent are from South Sudan, 32 percent from Congo, and 11 percent from other areas.