The Minister of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Mr. Hilary Onek, has expressed concerns about the hardships faced by refugees in settlements, which, he believes, have led them to become a concern for host communities.
Mr. Onek explained that recent reductions in food aid to Uganda by the World Food Programme (WFP) have significantly impacted the quality of life for refugees in the country. This has, in turn, forced some refugees to resort to criminal activities within the host communities.
The food aid reduction, according to Mr. Onek, amounted to at least a 30 percent cut, resulting in refugees now receiving just one meal a day.
“We are now facing challenges in maintaining law and order. Managing refugees has become difficult due to their lack of food, which has pushed some into criminal activities,” Mr. Onek stated.
He went on to describe incidents of refugees stealing property, food, uprooting cassava, and harvesting crops from local gardens. Such actions have created tensions and strained relations between refugees and the surrounding communities.
Mr. Onek made these remarks during the inauguration of the five members of the Refugees Appeal Board at the Office of the Prime Minister in Kampala on Friday.
The minister attributed these aid cuts to the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. He explained that the Western world has diverted funding to address the war and assist Ukrainian refugees fleeing their homeland.
Furthermore, Mr. Onek noted that United Nations agencies have left Uganda to shoulder the refugee burden, while the government faces constraints in providing for them.
“We have communicated our concerns to the global community, but there have been no significant changes,” Mr. Onek lamented.
He emphasized that when global challenges arise, Africa often finds itself at the bottom of the list of priorities. According to Mr. Onek, European nations tend to prioritize their own issues before considering assistance to African nations.
President Museveni has advised that refugees be settled in a consolidated space, allowing them to utilize the remaining land for farming. Due to financial constraints, refugees must now share education and healthcare services with host communities.
Mr. Onek appealed to the African governments from which the refugees originate to reconsider their approaches to governance and coexistence with opposing factions.
Mr. Jallah Faciann, the registration and identity management officer at UNHCR, expressed appreciation for Uganda’s open-door policy towards hosting refugees. He affirmed UNHCR’s commitment to supporting Uganda in improving the livelihoods of refugees.
Minister Onek revealed that Uganda currently hosts more than 1.6 million refugees from various countries.