By Gemma Ahaibwe

Uganda’s generous provisions are expected to empower refugees to sustain themselves with time. However, the extent to which this policy has actually empowered refugees is open to debate given the surge in number of refugees from South Sudan over the last 3 years.

gemma

The World Refugee Day 2018 falls on Wednesday 20th June, a day observed every year to raise public awareness about refugee situations throughout the world. As Uganda joins the rest of the World in observing this years’ Refugee day under the theme “In Solidarity with Refugees”, the country will likely be under the spotlight about its progressive and exemplary policy that has seen it admit about 1.4 million refugees into the country to date.

Through its Refugee Act and self-reliance strategy, Uganda is one of the few major refugee hosting countries that allocates a plot of land to new arrivals; allows them to work and run businesses; and provides them with freedom of movement. This is in contrast with neighboring countries such as Kenya that confines refugees in camps with stringent restrictions on work and movement.

Uganda’s generous provisions are expected to empower refugees to sustain themselves with time. However, the extent to which this policy has actually empowered refugees is open to debate given the surge in number of refugees from South Sudan over the last 3 years.

Refugees continue to heavily depend on humanitarian assistance

A major hallmark of Uganda’s refugee policy is the land allocation for residential and agricultural use. Ideally, the land provided is meant to support households to supplement food through production as rations are reduced.

However, a recent study by EPRC and UNICEF on refugee livelihoods shows that about 58 percent of rural based refugees depend on aid from humanitarian agencies and this is even higher in West Nile where it stands at about 80 percent. These findings reveal that self-reliance remains an unattained goal and food/cash aid are still essential for the survival of refugees.

Inadequate land sizes and limited labor market options are hindering self-reliance among refugees

Whereas land provision is the cornerstone of the self-reliance policy, the land provided to refugees is inadequate in many aspects. It is often very small, and in some cases unproductive or only marginally productive. By all standards, the size of land allocated cannot sufficiently support refugee food needs given the average household size of about 5-6 members.

These challenges coupled with other weather vagaries and climatic shocks further dampen self-reliance efforts among refugees.

Furthermore, although the refugee policy grants refugees the freedom to seek employment, the rate of employment outside subsistence agriculture remains low. This is not surprising because in a country like Uganda where unemployment and underemployment rates are already high, it is more difficult for refugees to secure employment.

What can be done to enhance refugee self-reliance?

Support agricultural livelihoods: Interventions aimed at enhancing production and productivity on the allocated plots of land should be prioritized. There is a need to promote the uptake of improved agricultural technologies such as improved seeds, fertilizer, irrigation schemes and other sustainable land management practices.

Beyond the subsistence farming, the promotion of non-farm options remains critical in improving refugee livelihoods and setting them on a path to self-sufficiency. Skilling refugees, the provision of startup capital and mentorship are examples of interventions that could be strengthened.

Foster integration between refugees and hosts: In places where refugees have integrated well with hosts, social services and communal resources have been shared amicably. In places where host communities own big chunks of land such as Northern Uganda, promotion of joint farmer group formation among refugees and hosts may improve refugee access to land and better agricultural technologies.

The writer is a Research Fellow, Micro Economic Department, Economic Policy Research Centre 

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