To the UK Parliament: The Uganda’s Refugee Policy is to manage refugees but not to empower them
In essence and in practicality, and in terms of impact the Uganda’s refugee Policy is not different from other refugee policies in other countries. This is our submission to the United Kingdom Parliament on policies governing refugees in Uganda and in the region.
Some of us have heard these diplomatic praises to the Government of Uganda as having one of the best policy on refugees in the world. The Guardian which is a UK News Paper has for the last two years described Uganda as “a heaven” for refugees, but most of those who speak do not feel the pain refugees bear by this oppressive policy which aim is to control and manage refugees rather than empowering and developing. Find our submission here
Submission to the United Kingdom Parliament about the refugee legal framework in Uganda
We recently received this request to help some United Kingdom Parliamentary with our views regarding policies governing refugees in the Uganda and in the East Africa Region. Being a refugee led organization we though are well placed to exchange our ideas on how we are affected by the legal framework in Uganda and in the region. This is not a research but our observation and experiences we have faced and how these policies have affected us but also affected our work. With view mind that may this few lines will one way or the other help people especially those who make decisions and those who promote themselves as the voices of refugees to understand better how much we are offended and harmed by their public statements which do not serve our interests. It is appears more and more evident now that often times the views of organizations, humanitarian institutions who offer aid to refugees and the Diplomatic Corps over the situation of refugees are not necessary the views of refugees. And that is why we opted to utilize this opportunity inn order to give refugee views on the policies used here in Uganda and in the region.
Here are the particular questions of interest:
- What are the main challenges faced by refugees in East Africa?
- What do you think of Uganda’s refugee policy? How does it compare with other countries in the region?
- What support do organisations like YARID need? (both from East African governments and international donors like the UK)
- Anything else you would like to bring to the Committee’s attention
R/ Here is what we would like to suggest as major challenges faced by refugees in the East Africa
The lack of freedom of movement in the region: While we seem seeing a progressive integration in the region through freedom of movement of people especially the citizens, who can easily move in different countries in the region, refugees in East African countries are still left out. For example here in Uganda, the common cases are the movement of Congolese refugees in Uganda who want to go to Rwanda and Kenya, they are always asked to pay a visa like a Congolese from Congo who is visiting those countries.
Accessing opportunities and services: In most cases refugees are excluded from all economic opportunities linked to the East Africa Region because they are not looked at equal to nationals. Even employment someone must have a citizenship which is not granted easily to refugees.
I think above all, most of the challenges faced by refugees in the East Africa are connected to the lack of an East Africa Community Policy on Refugees and this policy should not be a “copy and past” of collections from the international refugee framework but a policy that takes into consideration who refugees are in reality, a policy that looks at refugees as a human resource for the development and as stakeholders in the community affairs but not only mere consumers. That should be spirit of the policy.
And then after such policy we need a strong awareness campaigns to both refugees and the host communities in different countries but at the same time have in place strong Civil Society Organizations to ensure the implementation of the policy especially strong refugee led organizations. The big danger is to amalgamate quickly refugees to migrants.
Beyond these above things, we need to understand better the situation of refugees and how can they really benefit for the East Africa, the issue is that kind of those refugees who are educated in different ways, have access to information and are financial stable in order to benefit with opportunities associated to the East Africa Community. These refugees have to be middle-class people here in Uganda, but how many are they?
Much as Uganda’s refugee policy is diplomatically viewed as “progressive” in terms of allowing refugees to choose where to reside within Uganda but that choice has a cost in Uganda and this is what some people always forget. The price to pay is that as refugee you must accept not to get the humanitarian aid relief in case you want to reside somewhere else than the gazetted place for refugees. The Uganda’s refugee policy gives refugee options to get involved in gainful activities but also at a cost, you must do it at your own expenses in which is called here in Uganda “self-reliance” and often also many people do forget that and wonder where do refugees get capital to start a business, and the economic activities are limited to someone’s skills but not employment in public institutions. The Uganda’s refugee policy gives refugees equal chances to access certain services equally the same as nationals’ especially basic medical health care in public health facilities and basic education in public schools.
But many people always forget that refugees cannot be compared to nationals and even if you give them equal opportunities refugees are by fact of being refugees have more challenges, to access, to afford the same services. That is why a policy should reflect “Equity”. In most cases the preoccupations of Ugandan population in refugee host communities are often different from the major preoccupations of refugees in these communities.
For example here in “refugee settlements” a refugee is give a 10m scare piece of land where he/she is expected to earn a living from and also build on a house, but his/her neighbor who is a Uganda has a big land where he/she also earns a living. Then you put a primary school at 1 hour distance to walk from home up to school, you will find that refugee children do not have the same opportunities to access education, may be they woke up hungry because they did not eat well in the evening, may be they do not have pocket money, so many reasons which you will find are not common to the children from the host communities.
So ideally Uganda seems to have a “progressive refugee policy” but in reality it is not different from the policies in other countries where refugees are not benefiting from these policies. In short both Uganda’s refugee policy and policies in other countries greatly ignore who refugees are and what responses we can have towards them. In essences all these refugee policies aim at Managing BUT not Developing or empowering, they aim at controlling but not at protecting. Uganda still has a long way to go in order to have in place a refugee policy which looks at refugees with dignity, respect and as full human beings who are an asset for the country’s development.
The consequence of Uganda’s refugee policy is that all refugees here are only “surviving” in what is called “the refugee situation is relatively stable” they only think for today’s bread and have no plans nor opportunities for the future, which is exactly almost the same with refugees in other countries, to manage refugees in one place, give them their daily bread and no one should talk about their future.
We think organization like YARID and other refugee led organizations need more of strong partnership with East Africa Community in terms of involvement in decision making, in terms of consultations during policy drafting, in terms of budgeting allocation and in terms of lobbying to different states to put in place good policies for refugees in their countries.
Donors like UK need to be more of financial support to YARID and other refugee led organizations, and offer capacity building, but also become the voices of refugees in various decision making places or forums, but also to emphasize on collaboration between different states and refugees especially refugee led organizations. When aid is given to states, the donors should also consider and ask states to put in place long term projects aiming at development also and at building strong human resource among refugees. Donors have to invest more in refugee led organizations so that they can help states to realize the potential refugees have.
Our last opinion is in terms of fund allocation to refugees, in most cases the funds have been channeled to UNHCR or to the host governments but that alone is not enough. We suggest that all donors have in place a mechanism where refugee led organizations can apply directly for funding from donors, actually all donors should put in place “ Innovation Fund” and other kinds of funding with less conditions to refugees in order to access the funding. Donors have to put in place simple conditions for refugees and only emphasize on accountability for the funding which can be done in phases on quarterly basis where donors may opt to give funding to refugees each quarter in case of doubt. But also donors should have in place funding for institutional support to refugee led organization which can help them mainly to register as an organization, pay for the office rent, provide allowances to staffs or volunteers, easily attend meetings, to buy office equipment among others.
Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos
Foundation People for Peace and Defense of Human Rights