According to figures published on 31 January 2019, Uganda currently hosts over 1.2 million refugees. It has one of the largest refugee populations in Africa, with over 794 000 refugees from South Sudan, 319 000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and 92 000 refugees from other countries, in particular, Burundi, Rwanda, and Eritrea. The sheer number of arrivals put Uganda’s progressive refugee policy under pressure.
The eruption of inter-ethnic fighting in Ituri, in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in late 2017, led to thousands of DR Congolese to seek refuge in Uganda. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in 2018, around 120 000 refugees fled the DRC for Uganda, representing more than 75 percent of the new refugee arrivals in the country.
Furthermore, the five years of intense warfare and repeated failed peace agreements in South Sudan pushed hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country and seek refuge in Uganda. Since the signing of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan in mid-2018, clashes between armed factions are reported to have decreased. Refugee arrivals from South Sudan have started to stabilise since January 2018. This can be explained by a reduction in the fighting around the Ugandan border. Risks of further displacement, however, are still present given that the situation in South Sudan remains prone to uncertainty.
Uganda is also a refuge for people fleeing other conflict- and hunger-afflicted countries, such as Somalia and Burundi, making Uganda, together with Sudan, the country hosting one of the largest refugee populations in Africa.
The surge in refugee arrivals within such a brief timespan created significant gaps in the provision of humanitarian assistance. New settlements were created and existing ones extended to accommodate new arrivals. However, needs were still outstripping available assistance in many locations. There was, at the time, a shortage of alternative land available to host the new refugees arriving. While refugees in Uganda are free to move and work, alternative livelihood opportunities for them are extremely limited.
In 2017 and 2018, the European Union allocated over €85 million in humanitarian assistance to help Uganda address refugees’ needs and step up its Ebola preparedness. Given the real risk of the Ebola virus spreading from the DRC into Uganda due to busy cross-border movements, the EU has provided humanitarian funding to reinforce the capacities of the Ugandan health system and help with preparedness and surveillance for the early detection of cases and the prevention of transmission.
The European Union provides humanitarian funds to help address the needs of over one million refugees who have settled in the West Nile, Mid-West and South-West regions of Uganda. Since 2017, EU humanitarian aid has prioritised the provision of rapid and good quality emergency assistance to newly arrived refugees, especially to those from South Sudan and the DRC. The EU’s funding allows humanitarian organisations in Uganda to provide protection, shelter, food assistance, healthcare, access to safe water and sanitation services, nutrition, and education assistance to refugees and their host communities. Other funding targeting health facilities will also help to reinforce the capacities, quality and service availability, especially as concerns preparedness and response in case of an epidemic.
The EU’s food assistance in Uganda consists of cash transfers that offer refugees the possibility to make their own choices to meet their basic needs while, at the same time, boosting the local economy. With overwhelming numbers of children out of school, humanitarian aid also focuses on providing tailored education and protection for refugee children and children from local communities. Learning programmes are in place to help refugee children to catch up on missed schooling due to the crises in which they found themselves.
In addition to providing humanitarian aid, the European Union also increases the resilience and self-sufficiency of the most vulnerable people, thus making them less dependent on aid in the long-term. This is particularly relevant in the Ugandan context, where refugees are able to move freely, work and start businesses. To this end, in September 2018, the European Commission services, the European External Action Service (EEAS) and EU Member States agreed to implement jointly an action plan that aims to find durable solutions for the people affected by forced displacement (both refugee and host communities) and putting together a comprehensive EU response. The plan has actions that focus on strengthening self-reliance, access to basic services, employment opportunities, establishing local sustainable institutions and structures, and tackling the drivers of displacement. The process hinges on the strengthening of cooperation between the humanitarian, development and political/diplomatic actors to go beyond short-term results and work in a mutually reinforcing way towards long-term objectives. These actions fall within Uganda’s implementation of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework that seeks to help create a sustainable approach to the refugee situation in Uganda.