Uganda is facing the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis with an unprecedented influx of refugees from South Sudan. In August 2017, the number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda hit the 1 million mark. Uganda’s progressive refugee policy is under increasing pressure due to the scale of the crisis. Services are overstretched and available land is dwindling. To address the emergency needs, the EU has allocated €65 million in humanitarian assistance and €20 million to build the self-reliance of refugees.
Sustained fighting and the worst ever food security situation in many parts of South Sudan have resulted in a steady influx of refugees, averaging 1800 per day. As there is no political resolution in sight to the South Sudan conflict which erupted in December 2013, it is expected that the flow of refugees into Uganda will continue. In addition to the South Sudanese, Uganda is also a refuge for people fleeing conflict and hunger, especially from the DRC, Somalia and Burundi. Uganda now hosts more refugees, a total of 1.3 million, than any other country in Africa.
The arrival of so many refugees in such a short period of time has created significant gaps in the provision of humanitarian assistance. New settlements have been created and existing ones have been expanded to accommodate the new arrivals, but the needs outstrip the available services in many locations. Refugees in Uganda are free to move and work. They are also entitled to land to build a home on and grow food but with land becoming scarce the latter is no longer always implemented.
Water supply is a challenge and requires considerable investments. Health services are downscaling. Food rations have been partially cut and classes are overcrowded leading to children dropping out. 85% of the South Sudanese refugees are women and children which presents concerns as to their security and protection from exploitation and abuse.
The European Commission is providing humanitarian funds to help address the needs of the more than one million South Sudanese refugees in Uganda that have settled in the West Nile region of Uganda. Financial support also goes to helping Congolese, Burundian and other refugees.
In 2017, the European Commission allocated €65 million in humanitarian aid to meet the refugees’ basic needs and step up efforts to decongest the overcrowded reception centers. In addition to €20 million from the EU Emergency Trust Fund to help refugees gain more self-reliance. The funding aims to address both emergency and early recovery needs.
The Commission’s humanitarian partners are providing protection, shelter, food assistance, access to water and sanitation facilities, nutrition and education for the refugees. Efforts are also made to help people earn an income, thus making them less dependent on aid in the long term. This is particularly useful in the context of Uganda, where refugees are allowed to move freely, work and start businesses.
The Commission’s food assistance in Uganda consists exclusively of cash transfers, which give refugees more choice and control over what they eat while at the same time stimulating the local economy. With overwhelming numbers of children out of school, another focus is on building more schools and child-friendly spaces to provide education and protection as well as accelerated learning for those who have missed out on school and need to catch up.
Given the scale of the crisis, the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) reopened an office in Uganda in 2017. Its staff liaises closely with colleagues from the EU development branch which addresses the longer-term needs through vocational training for youths and livelihoods support. Uganda’s progressive model presents the opportunity for more sustainable aid and solutions. Funds permitting, it provides refugees with some of the best chances of becoming self-reliant and independent from aid found anywhere in the world.