Uganda’s progressive and welcoming approach towards refugees is a good model for other host countries, but much more is needed to improve the social and economic wellbeing of refugees and the communities that host them, according to a new report released by the World Bank Group.
“The people of Uganda have been incredibly generous towards refugees, and this generosity of the host communities should be recognized by supporting them to have a higher quality of life.
“This study provides an evidence-based understanding of the living conditions of both refugees and hosts, which we expect will inform policy and programming for the national refugee response,” said Tony Thompson, World Bank Country Manager for Uganda.
Uganda is currently hosting 1.3 million refugees and is the country with the largest number of refugees in Africa and the third-largest in the world.
Refugees in Uganda access the same social services as their local host community and are free to move and work. When possible, they are allocated a small piece of land to settle and farm, which encourages self-reliance, and promotes their coexistence and integration into local communities.
According to the report, “Informing the Refugee Policy Response in Uganda,” Uganda’s progressive refugee policy and comprehensive response with support from development and humanitarian partners has made it possible for refugees to have equal access to social services as their hosts, and in some instances, they enjoy more favourable access, when compared to host communities.
About 95 per cent of refugees and 66 per cent of hosts have access to improved water while access to electricity stands at around 50 per cent for both.
Primary school enrollment is almost at par with refugees at 65 per cent and hosts at 68 per cent. Completion rates and secondary enrollment rates remain low for both populations but particularly for refugees, and the same goes for improved sanitation.
The health and health care access of both populations, however, remains similar. More than 80 per cent of refugees and hosts reported consulting a healthcare provider when sick. Refugees are geographically closer to health centres, with at least 75 per cent travelling 3 kilometres to reach a healthcare centre when ill, compared to 65 per cent of hosts.
This is made easier by Non-Governmental Organizations that provide healthcare services for refugees within or very close to the designated refugee settlements.
The report also shows that refugees contribute significantly to the local economy, by purchasing goods and services in the local markets and operating businesses.
About one in 5 employees of refugee enterprises is a Ugandan and around 54 per cent sell-off their crops. However, weather shock and low access to agricultural inputs constrain their productivity which makes them food insecure and to rely on humanitarian assistance.
Despite feeling safe and secure in Uganda, about half of the refugee population (48 per cent) live in poverty, compared to 17 per cent of the host population.
Poverty among refugees is highest in the West Nile region of the country where close to 60 per cent of refugees are poor and around 30 per cent of hosts are poor.
Around 54 per cent of refugees depends on humanitarian assistance as their main source of income compared to less than 2 per cent for the hosts. Their inability to generate income is constrained by low levels of human capital as less than 8 per cent have received skills or job training.
The report recommends measures to improve self-reliance of refugees and communities that host them to enhance both their living conditions and contribution to the Ugandan economy. These include raising the
productivity of agricultural activities through the provision of inputs and extension services, as well as creating job opportunities in non-agricultural sectors.
The report is a collaboration with the Uganda Bureau of Statistics and the Office of the Prime Minister and is based on the 2018 Uganda Refugee and Host Communities Household Survey.
It is funded by the State and Peacebuilding Trust Fund, the World Bank’s largest, global multi-donor trust fund established to finance innovative approaches to state and peace-building in regions affected by fragility, conflict and violence.
James Muwonge, the Director Socio-Economic Survey at the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) says the report indicates that refugees contribute to the local economy in terms of activities they engage in mostly in local markets and other enterprises they engage in and most importantly feel safer and welcomed by Ugandans.
“In terms of welfare, the refugee community is poor compared to host communities, 46% of refugee population live below the poverty line and the same applies to certain host communities,” said Muwonge.
The report indicates Uganda’s approach to hosting refugees as a model to follow for countries around the world facing similar situations.
Uganda is welcoming refugees and the current framework offers many rights including freedom of movement, the right to work and access public social services.
Despite feeling safe and secure in Uganda, about half of the refugee (48%) live in poverty compared to 17% of the host population.
Poverty among refugees is highest in the West Nile region of the country where close to 60% of refugees are poor and about 30% of hosts are also poor.
Around 54% of refugees depend on humanitarian assistance as their main source of livelihood compared to less than 2% for the hosts. Their inability to generate income is constrained by low levels of human capital as less than 2% have received skills in job training.
It shows that improving social reliance and the integration of refugees into the local communities would be beneficial to the local communities while generating positive spillovers for a successful implementation of Uganda’s progressive refugee framework.
Hillary Onek, Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees said during the report launch that Uganda also experienced the load of refugees when Idi Amin was in power in the 70’s.
“With the big number of refugees coming to Uganda, we as government has experienced extra pressure for which we always appeal to partners to give a supporting hand,” said Onek.
BY FRANK SEMATA