Govt commits to supporting refugees in face of rise in numbers

Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja speaking during the pre-Global Refugee Forum. Photo/SYLIVIA KATUSHABE

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Speaking during the pre-Global Refugee Forum, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja said Uganda's open-door policy for refugees is a reflection of her unwavering commitment to the principle of "Ubuntu" or “Humanity”.

The government yesterday joined development partners to announce commitments to Uganda's refugee response ahead of the Global Refugee Forum 2023 due this December in Geneva, Switzerland.

Speaking during the pre-Global Refugee Forum, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja said Uganda's open-door policy for refugees is a reflection of her unwavering commitment to the principle of "Ubuntu" or “Humanity”.

Ms Nabbanja explained that although refugees remain one of the most pressing challenges the country faces, they are not seen as a burden but as assets, contributors to society, and agents of change.

“Uganda firmly believes that no human being should ever be subjected to such suffering and loss. We cannot just look on while innocent lives are lost in their pursuit of safety and asylum. This is our moral compass that drives us to extend a helping hand, to protect and preserve life,” Ms Nabbanja said.

She promised, “Uganda will not allow our fellow human beings to perish at sea, drown in the depths of despair, and be denied the chance to seek refuge.”

Uganda will co-host the GRF and has pledged to increase resilience and self-reliance by empowering refugees to secure their livelihoods by creating 100,000 viable economic opportunities for refugees and host communities by 2027. This will include roping refugees into agricultural value chains, increasing access to vocational skills training, promoting the development of market-relevant skills, and employment creation.

Additionally, the country promises action against climate change by protecting the environment increasing access to sustainable energy sources in refugee settlements and host communities, and strengthening waste management of plastics, solids, and e-waste through public-private partnerships.

Efforts will also be geared towards localizing the refugee response, through strengthening the role and impact of national responders and ensuring accountability and transparency of national and local actors by strengthening their accounting system.

The other commitments include supporting peace-building processes and negotiations that will lead to the voluntary repatriation of refugees back home.

Mr Mathew Crentsil, the UNHCR representative in Uganda, said that the number of refugees in Uganda is increasing every day. Mr Crentsil noted that from 2019 to date, there has been an increase of 12 percent from nearly 1.4 million refugees to about 1.6 million today, yet there is reduced international support.

Despite the increasing numbers, humanitarian funding for managing refugee programmes in Uganda continues to fall. The situation is no different from other refugee programmes across the globe. This is largely attributed to increasing displacement around the world and the increasing needs of displaced persons,” Mr Crentsil said.

He suggested sustainable solutions, including the integration of refugee settlements into local governments so that districts can look after them as one of their villages.

The Japan Ambassador to Uganda Mr Fukuzawa Hidemoto said that their country has pledged humanitarian development-peace and peace building.

“One of the priority areas of Japan’s development cooperation policy for Uganda is social stability in the Northern region, which is under increasing pressure due to the acceptance of large numbers of refugees from neighbouring countries,” Mr Hidemoto said.

Mr Peter Gift, the chairperson of the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement in West Nile, on behalf of the refugees in Uganda, is committed to supporting actions towards environmental protection and restoration for refugees and host communities.

He noted that they intend to plant 7.5 million trees around their households and woodlots by 2027 as part of efforts aimed at environmental protection within settlements.

Mr Gift said that refugees also pledged to continue advocacy for all refugees’ parents to enroll children of school-going age into schools and institutions.