How Uganda’s Refugee Policy is Being Strained by the Influx from Sudan, the DRC, and South Sudan

A young refugee from South Sudan cooks food at the reception centre in the newly established Pagarinya 2 camp in Adjumani District, in northern Uganda

Summary:

  • Uganda is facing increased strain on its refugee support system due to a surge in arrivals from Sudan, the DRC, and South Sudan, compounded by significant funding shortages. Over 33,000 Sudanese refugees have arrived in 2024 alone, adding to an average of 2,500 new weekly arrivals. This influx is overwhelming health and education services and hindering refugee self-reliance efforts.

KAMPALA, (Examiner) – Uganda has been receiving a growing number of Sudanese refugees, with over 33,000 people seeking safety in the country, including 19,000 who have arrived in Kampala since the beginning of 2024. These individuals are escaping a conflict in Sudan that has persisted for over a year.

Most of the new arrivals from Sudan are from Khartoum and possess university-level education. On average, Uganda receives 2,500 refugees weekly, mainly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, driven by ongoing conflicts and climate-related challenges.

Despite the lack of media attention, the continuous influx of refugees, combined with funding shortages, is severely straining Uganda’s refugee protection and assistance services. This situation threatens Uganda’s well-regarded refugee response model and the welfare of both refugees and host communities.

The health sector, which serves both refugees and host populations, has been particularly affected by funding gaps. Staffing levels in health centers have been reduced, and there are insufficient supplies to meet critical health needs. An outbreak of conjunctivitis (red eye disease) has impacted several refugee settlements, with 141 cases reported in Nakivale alone, exacerbated by shortages of water and soap, affecting hygiene. Mental health issues are also prevalent, evidenced by four attempted suicides among refugees in Adjumani over the past two weeks, underscoring the need for targeted mental health interventions.

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Education services are also overwhelmed, with overcrowded schools, insufficient teachers, and a lack of educational materials making it challenging for children, who make up more than half of the refugee population, to receive an adequate education.

Critical protection services are hampered as well, with refugee registration processes facing long delays due to a lack of necessary materials and equipment. Investments in income-generating activities for refugees have been reduced, hindering efforts to promote self-reliance and reduce dependency on aid.

In response, UNHCR, alongside senior Ugandan officials, has engaged key partners, including the governments of Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium, as well as EU institutions, to highlight the severe impact of reduced funding and advocate for additional resources. UNHCR emphasized the need for donor support to alleviate the plight of refugees and host communities, reiterating Uganda’s commitment to socio-economic inclusion and self-reliance for refugees as pledged at the 2023 Global Refugee Forum.

Uganda hosts nearly 1.7 million refugees and asylum-seekers, primarily from South Sudan and the DRC, making it the country with the highest refugee population in Africa. Despite this, Uganda was among UNHCR’s 13 most underfunded operations globally in 2023. For 2024, the Uganda Country Refugee Response Plan (UCRRP) seeks $858 million to support over 1.67 million refugees and 2.7 million host community members, yet it has received only 13 percent of the needed funds.

For decades, Uganda has been a leader in refugee assistance, embracing progressive policies aligned with the Global Compact on Refugees, allowing refugees access to land, freedom of movement, and the ability to reside in urban areas if self-sufficient. However, if these policies falter due to dwindling funds, refugees may be forced to leave Uganda in search of better support, as evidenced by recent movements to neighboring countries citing reduced food rations and support.

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To prevent a decline in development gains, institutional capacity, and peaceful coexistence with host communities, increased international support is crucial to sustain Uganda’s commitment to refugee protection.

editorial@examiner.co.ug

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