Uganda is facing the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis with an ongoing influx of refugees from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Over 188 000 refugees, mostly from DRC, have arrived in Uganda in 2018. Uganda’s progressive refugee policy is under increasing pressure due to the scale of the crisis. Most South Sudanese refugees (85%) are women and children who need protection from exploitation and abuse. Services are overstretched and available land is dwindling.
The eruption of inter-ethnic fighting in Ituri, north-east of the DRC, in mid-December 2017 led to thousands of Congolese seeking refuge in Uganda; between January and May 2018, over 81 000 refugees arrived from DRC (UNHCR). Sustained fighting and enduring severe food insecurity in many parts of South Sudan have resulted in a constant influx of refugees: over a million South Sudanese refugees are hosted in Uganda. As there is no political resolution in sight to the South Sudan conflict which erupted in December 2013, the flow of refugees into Uganda is expected to continue, while voluntary and dignified repatriation of those already in the country will not be immediately possible.
In addition to the South Sudanese, Uganda is also a refuge for people fleeing conflict and hunger, especially from other countries such as Somalia and Burundi, making Uganda the largest refugee hosting 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 new arrivals but the needs outstrip the available services in many locations while no alternative land to host new arrivals is currently available.
Refugees in Uganda are free to move and work; they are also entitled to land to build a home and grow crops but with land becoming scarce, the latter is no longer always possible while alternative livelihood opportunities for refugees are extremely limited. Food rations have been partially cut and classes are overcrowded leading to children dropping out.
In 2017, the EU allocated €65 million in humanitarian assistance and €20 million to build the self-reliance of refugees.
The European Union provides humanitarian funds to help address the needs of the more than one million South Sudanese and more than 285 000 Congolese refugees in Uganda that have settled in the West Nile, Mid-West and South-West regions. New EU humanitarian aid for 2018 prioritises the provision of rapid and good quality emergency assistance to newly arrived refugees, especially those from South Sudan and DRC. The EU’s funding allows humanitarian organisations to provide protection, shelter, food assistance, health care, access to water and sanitation services, nutrition, and education assistance for refugees.
The EU’s food assistance in Uganda consists exclusively of cash transfers, which offers more choice and control over what refugees purchase while at the same time helping 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 and learning programmes to help refugees whose education had been interrupted to catch up.
The EU also focuses on increasing the resilience and self-sufficiency of the most vulnerable households, 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. This is strategically linked with EU development aid programming in the area, which addresses the longer-term needs through vocational training for young people and livelihoods support.