The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is calling on international communities to increase their support for the large refugee population in Uganda as living conditions for refugees are seriously deteriorating. The protracted crisis in neighbouring countries drives more people to flee to Uganda for refuge thereby increasing the numbers and their needs. As a result, refugees are taking drastic measures to survive due to lack of funding. The survival of over 1 million refugees from South Sudan, DRC, Burundi and others are at risk.
The United Nations (UN) through its humanitarian agency, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which is committed to support and protect refugees, has been working to improve living conditions in Uganda. Last year, Japan reportedly contributed $500,000 to support farming activities in host communities in Uganda. However, following recent incidents of fraud and mismanaged donor funding UNHCR is facing freezing funding. As expected, this has contributed to a downturn in resources to cater for the ever-growing refugee population.
Uganda has been accommodating refugees and asylum seekers for many years now with a current refugee population of 1.2 million, making up 3.5 percent of the country’s total population. For a country that is poor and has its own economic challenges to deal with, there is a great need for humanitarian support from donor communities. The Deputy High Commissioner for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, Kelly Clements recently saw firsthand the huge task of caring for these refugees when she visited Uganda. She revealed that UNHCR intends to re-allocate over Shs 375 million (US$100,000) as part of its focus on education.
NRC is working across Uganda to ensure that people fleeing violence, as well as Ugandan host communities, can access safe shelter, water, food, education and legal assistance. As a result of lack of funding the organization has had to cut back on Water, Sanitation and Shelter programmes. Uganda’s Country Director for the NRC, Adam Bouloukos says rich countries have broken their promises of international responsibility-sharing for handling the global refugee crisis as evident in Uganda. He says the country is in some ways, a victim of the international community’s perception that it could cope with the influx of refugees.
“Unlike the US and many European countries, Uganda shouldered the burden of the global refugee crisis, and opened its borders without complaint and showed humanity to their neighbours when others would not. Still, there have been damaging cuts in life-saving aid by the international community, who are shamefully neglecting this growing crisis,” he explained.
The country’s unique open door policy to hosting refugees has led to an increase in the refugee population, thereby putting more pressure on humanitarian efforts. Last year’s response plan estimated that about $220 million was needed to respond to the large influx of refugees from DR Congo. Of this, less than 40 percent ($86 million) was funded. The response to a large number of refugees from South Sudan, the highest number of refugees in Uganda, was also gravely under-funded. $577 million was needed for support to South Sudanese refugees in Uganda and the host community last year, according to the updated response plan. Only $394 million was put forward (68 percent).
The NRC stresses the implications of the UN’s action to freeze funding while calling on donor countries to take more responsibility for refugees in the country,
“Any temporary or permanent disruption to humanitarian funding in Uganda will invariably have ramifications for some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Donor countries must ensure that refugees and host communities are not punished for the failings of others.”