Event Reports

THE REFUGEE CRISIS - A CHALLENGE FOR UGANDA

By the end of 2016, the numberof displaced people around theworld had risen to 65.6 million,an increase of 300,000 on theyear before, and the largest numberever recorded, according to the UNRefugee Agency, UNHCR. To put thislarge number in perspective, one shouldnote that it is more than the populationof the United Kingdom or almost twicethe population of Uganda.

Of the 65.6 million, 40.3 million were people displaced within their

own country (internally displaced persons), according to the UNHCR’s

and the 2016 Global Trends report.

Refugees who fled to another

country made up the next biggest

group, at 22.5 million people, the

highest number ever recorded. The

rest, at 2.8 million people, were

asylum seekers, refugees who had

fled their own countries and were

seeking protection elsewhere.

The Arab Syria Republic generated the

highest number of refugees, with 5.5

million Syrian having fled the country

because of the civil war. However, over

the course of 2016, South Sudan became

a major new source of refugees after the

breakdown of peace in the country. By

2018, the civil war in Syria, in its eighth

year and with no sign that it would end

soon, had both internally and externally

displaced people numbering a whopping

12 million.

Worryingly, the number of people

being displaced continues to grow.

Of the total refugee count in 2016,

10.3 million became refugees that

year. Currently, Uganda is the biggest

refugee host country in Africa. As at

January 2018, the country had become

host to 1,411,794 refugees.

Reasons why people become refugees

The most common reason why people

become refugees is wars and conflicts.

The largest group of refugees in the

world are fleeing civil conflict in

Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and the

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

People also flee from persecution,

which takes religious, social, racial or

political forms. Religious refugees, for

example, include Muslims persecuted

in Myanmar, Christians in the Central

African Republic (CAF) and Hindus in

Pakistan.

In Uganda, displacement of people,

other than that caused by the twodecade

LRA war in northern Uganda

which ended in the mid-2000s, has

largely been due to natural hazards

like landslides and consequences like

hunger, which can also be attributed

to climate change. Though officially

climate change is not yet a valid reason

for an asylum claim, it is increasingly

becoming a cause of displacement of

people. It is estimated that in the next

83 years, a stunning 13 million coastal

dwellers could be displaced because of

climate change.

In Uganda, according to the Internal

Displacement Monitoring Centre

(IDMC), 61 disasters brought on by

natural hazards were reported between

1980 and 2010 and almost 5 million

people were affected by incidences

including floods, earthquakes,

landslides, drought, epidemics and

livestock diseases.

Challenges of hosting refugees

Hosting of refugees comes with

challenges such as environmental

degradation during the process

of setting up camps and/or

settlements where trees are felled

and ecosystems disrupted. There

are also risks of insecurity spillovers

from the conflict in the

country of origin. The government

of Rwanda, for example, has

always feared that the conflict

in the DRC might spill over into

Rwanda, which partly explains the

restrictions on access to Rwanda

for refugees from the DRC.

Refugees put pressure on public

social services such as education,

water and health, which often

cause conflicts with host

communities. Recently, conflicts

developed between refugees in

Kyangwali Refugee Settlement in

Hoima district (Western Uganda)

and the host communities over

water point sources.

There are huge economic

challenges in hosting refugees. A

UN study in Jordan, one of the

biggest refugee host countries in

the Middle East, estimated the

cost of hosting Syrian refugees in

2013 and 2014 at USD 5.3 billion.

The Jordanian government and the

UN had estimated that the cost of

hosting refugees in 2014 would

amount to only USD 2.1 billion.

In 2017, Uganda and UNHCR hosted

the Uganda Solidarity Summit on

Refugees, hoping to raise USD 2

billion for humanitarian assistance

for the over 1.4 million refugees

in the country. The majority of the

refugees from South Sudan and

the DRC, two of Africa’s biggest

refugee source countries, are

hosted in Uganda. By December 2017, Uganda was host to 986,626 and 236,406 South Sudanese and DRC refugees respectively. This definitely puts a strain on the national economy.

“Do we really have the potential to host refugees?” poses journalist George Katongole. “I would not mind the resources that Uganda spends on refugees in refugee settlements,” argues Katongole, “but we also have people in this country who are in worse situations than those refugees. There are people – even in Kampala – who cannot afford to feed themselves.”

The influx of refugees often impacts on the politics and governance of host countries. In 2017, in Holland, after the elections that produced no decisive winner, splits over refugee policy among political parties that needed to form a coalition government left the country with no government for three months. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy towards refugees in Germany was highly criticised by her political opponents. This was a risk to her party, the Christian Democratic Union, which almost lost the 2017 elections.

The issue of refugees has also been one of contention with in the European Union (EU), with some member countries divided over the matter. Countries like Hungary, for example, refused to take in their quarter share of refugees entering Europe, arguing that it would strain her economy. The number of people seeking asylum in Europe reached a record high of 1.3 million in 2016. Most of the refugees came from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The EU was forced to sign a refugee pact with Turkey. In the highly criticised deal, Turkey agreed to take back migrants who entered Greece, and send legal refugees to the EU. In exchange, the EU agreed to give Turkey 6 billion euros, and to allow visa-free travel for Turkish citizens by the end of June 2016.

“At the onset of a massive refugee crisis, a refugee influx into a country can cause a significant overload on a country’s resources, social services and infrastructure,” notes David Kigozi, programme manager, Sudan, at the International Refugee Rights Initiative. Kigozi however says this happens if the refugee management system is totally based on “care-and-maintenance” programmes which pay no attention to the empowerment of refugees to take responsibility for their own livelihoods, at least partially, if they wish to do so. “In protracted situations, however,” Kigozi argues, “where the planned response focuses on the development of both refugees and hosts in an environment that is supportive of refugee rights, it would be far-fetched to consider refugees as a burden.”

There is evidence of the positive impact that refugees make. They supply needed skills, as the case is in Germany, or create employment, as the case is in Kampala, with some Somali refugees operating restaurants and fuel petrol stations, among others. The refugee crisis, therefore, is perhaps a challenge that has no explicit conclusion but one that ought to be handled on a case-by-case basis basing on when it occurs.

Top 10 source countries of refugees

1. Syria

2. Afghanistan

3. South Sudan

4. Somalia

5. Sudan

6. DRC

7. CAF

8. Myanmar

9. Eritrea

10. Burundi

BRIAN MUTEBI