By Max Patrick Ocaido
KAMPALA. Uganda continues to face the problem of surging numbers of refugees with the latest UN report showing that the number has hit the 1.5m mark.
According to a policy brief titled “The Special Question of Urban Refugees in Uganda” released in July 2018, the number of refugees living in urban areas in Uganda remains unknown and most of them are engaged in prostitution and other illicit trade.
“While about 70,000 refugees are on the list of “receiving material assistance” the number of asylum seekers and refugees living in urban areas is not known. Many refugees are living in the urban areas anonymously,” the report says.
The report adds, “Contrary to original belief that those in urban areas are the savvy and able to eke out a decent living on their own, many are unable which could explain the number of urban refugees engaged in prostitution and other disallowed trades.”
The report commissioned by Africa Leadership Institute (AFLI) sought to raise awareness about the merging issues of management of refugees and to influence public policy management of refugees in the country.
Statistics from United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) indicate that the number of refugees in Uganda increased from 694,158 in 2015 to 1,444,873 in March 2018 with South Sudan alone contributing 1,053,598.
In response, government has gazetted 350 square miles of land for refugee settlement in a number of districts.
“This historic rise has exerted a heavy burden on the resources traditionally allocated to refugees. For instance, government has gazetted a total of 350 square miles of land for refugee settlement in a number of districts,” the report reads.
There is also a huge concern of high proportion of young refugees with reports from the Inter Aid assistance register indicating that 61% of refugees are between the age of 1-18 and only 2% are over 60 years.
In its recommendations, the report wants government to deal with the urban refugee question more comprehensively than it is at present to include evidence-based policy development where accurate data is critical. The report among others recommends enlargement of livelihood support for urban refugees by helping them acquire transferable and sellable vocational skills in addition to education.
Uganda’s reputation as a peaceful, democratic and liberal economy has endeared it to asylum seekers escaping internal strife in their countries of origin. Currently, Uganda is ranked number one destination for refugees in Africa and third among friendly refugee host countries globally, according to UNHCR 2018 report.