As 2019 gets well underway, I want to share our perspectives on the top priorities and challenges ahead. Last year, Uganda provided life-saving assistance and protection to more than a million refugees, including 164,000 new arrivals fleeing conflict in the region.
The government continued to provide safety, legal status, access to health, education and livelihood opportunities, including through the allocation of land plots. Ugandans have continued to act as first responders, sharing land and scarce resources.
The Ministry of Health, with support from humanitarian and development partners, recently launched the Health Sector Integrated Refugees Response Plan (HSIRRP) to ensure better integrated health services for refugees and their hosts.
This inclusive and progressive approach, driven by relevant line ministries, is a key element of Uganda’s implementation of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF). The Ministry of Education launched a similar plan in September 2018. Plans for water and environment and for livelihoods and jobs will follow suit in 2019.
While funds did not cover all the needs of refugees and host communities – far from it - international support last year was crucial to cover immediate assistance at transit and reception centres, with limited support for shelter, schooling and healthcare.
UNHCR and partners provided help for victims of sexual and gender-based violence and unaccompanied children, and supported the reestablishment of community structures.
International aid also helped expand and maintain critical infrastructure such as roads, and district hospitals, clinics and schools strained by the sudden expansion of the population due to the refugee presence. These activities benefitted those who live in these districts.
The 2018 Refugee Response Plan (RRP) was only 56 per cent funded, of a total of $869 million. The RRP for 2019 has a budget of about $1 billion, based on needs assessments in the refugee settlements, but this time, including more interventions to support Ugandan communities in the same districts. The plan aims to go ‘the first mile’ towards more sustained development support.
Last year did have its challenges, as the refugee response in Uganda was shaken by allegations of fraud and corruption. Over the course of last year, significant progress was made to rectify the situation. Stronger safeguards have been introduced to reduce the risk of similar events occurring.
Together with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and the World Food Programme (WFP), the organisation conducted one of the biggest verification of a refugee population in its history, verifying the presence of more than one million refugees in more than 30 different locations and rolling out biometric checks for food distributions.
This was achieved in a record nine months. OPM, which leads and coordinates the refugee response, is now registering refugees using globally tested and proven biometric identification and data-management tools. This should enhance the management of assistance as well as ensure the integrity of refugee population data.
We are now at a crossroads. Communities urgently need to see tangible dividends for hosting refugees. For this to happen, we simply do not have sufficient resources.
While the CRRF has succeeded in engaging more actors to support Uganda’s refugee response such as the World Bank and other key development donors, it is evident that additional resources are critically needed.
UNHCR starts the year with a much reduced available level of funding at a time when renewed efforts must be made for several key priority areas. I want to highlight education as a top priority. Many refugees have lost years of schooling. Sixty two per cent of the refugees are under 18.
So far, very few are completing primary school and even fewer are accessing secondary. We desperately need to make sure both refugee and host community youth have access to quality education, skills and vocational training to enable them to contribute and to restore their hope in the future.
We also need to focus on protecting and restoring the environment, including water sources, wetlands and forests, among other related activities. We intend to invest as much as we can in this sector and work with development partners to ensure that large-scale reforestation is supported across refugee-hosting districts.
These ideas are all reflected in the Global Compact on Refugees adopted last December by nearly all member states of the UN General Assembly.
With more than 85 per cent of refugees living in the developing world, the Compact reflects a significant new commitment by the international community to share responsibility and show solidarity with refugees and countries like Uganda.
Refugees very much want to contribute. They are deeply grateful for the safety and hospitality Uganda provides. Susan Grace Duku, a refugee from South Sudan, expressed her gratitude for access to the Ugandan health services which saved her six-year-old daughter.
She moved everyone at the launch of the Health Response Plan by ending her statement with ‘For God and my country of asylum’.
Let us together prove that Uganda is the model, worldwide, that demonstrates our joint commitment to the goals enshrined in the Global Compact on Refugees. One part of the equation is the continued support of the Ugandan people and its government, while the other is clearly the increased support of the international community.
Then we will provide Susan and the 1.2 million other refugees in Uganda hope for the future.
Mr Boutroue is the UNHCR Representative in Uganda