2024 World Refugee Day Statement

Theme: “In Solidarity with Refugees”

World Refugee Day (WRD) is celebrated every year on 20th June and it’s a day dedicated by the United Nations to all the refugees all over the world. It’s a day to honor and recognize all persons that have been forced to flee from their countries of origin. By the end of December 2023, Uganda was hosting over 1.6 million refugees and asylum seekers. Since then, new arrivals have continued to enter the country mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan and South Sudan which ideally points to an increased number of refugees within Uganda. This essentially shows how celebrating this day in the Uganda context is justified, appropriate and important.

This year, the theme for WRD is “In Solidarity with Refugees” and the “Solidarity” in this sense means keeping our doors open, celebrating their strengths and achievements, and reflecting on the challenges and demands that the refugees face. This is indeed the right time to stand in solidarity with refugees while taking into account the daily journeys they make in the pursuit for safety and wholesome life all over the world.

Refugees in Uganda suffer vulnerabilities sprung from inadequate or lack of access to land, food, language barrier, high cost of access to services. In celebrating and fostering kinship relationships and ties with refugees, all stakeholders are called to find durable solutions to these challenges faced by refugees.

The government of Uganda is a leader in providing protection to the biggest number of refugees in the region. It recognizes the need for the refugees to be safe and live without any form of fear and discrimination. Uganda operates a progressive refugee model; with open borders, non-camp policies, free integration of refugees, equal access to government-provided services, with opportunities to find work and receive land allocation for farming and shelter. This model is regarded as one of the most generous in the world.

The government has also enacted policies such as the Refugee Act, 2006 and the Refugee Regulations, 2010 that offer a framework for all stakeholder involved in refugee response.

Refugee Law Project (RLP) which is an outreach project of the School of Law, Makerere University through its various interventions has played a significant role in last 25 years in addressing the issues that are faced by refugees. RLP has presence in Kiryandongo, Gulu, Kitgum, Lamwo, Adjumani, Arua, Mbarara, Kyegegwa. Some of the programmes that the RLP implements include Access to Justice, Conflict, Transitional Justice and Governance; Gender and Sexuality, Mental Health and Psychosocial Well-being and Media for Social Change and livelihoods to respond to immediate needs and build resilience of the refugees so that in Uganda that they live dignified lives.

We call for global solidarity in the shared responsibility to care for and build hope together with the refugees. World over, eight countries host more than half the world's refugees, but just ten countries provide 75 per cent of the UN's budget to ease and resolve the plight of refugees (UNDP 2023). While it is essential that refugees receive assistance to meet their immediate needs, the humanitarian response is not sufficient to support sustainable solutions for refugees and the communities that host them. Refugees need to restore and again build their trust and confidence in life. They need jobs, education, legal support and protection in order to chart a future of hope.

There are still many areas of needs for the refugee communities. These include:

Advocacy. The laws and legislations that have been passed need to be supported and sustained. The rights of refugees should be upheld. Other actors therefore need to stand with refugees by seeing to it that their rights are known, protected and upheld at all times.

Supporting local integration. Refugees within Uganda enjoy freedom of movement within Uganda. In essence, they are not limited to staying within the various settlements across the country. This therefore means that the refugees will find their way to the different parts of the country and will settle in there. In a bid to stand with refugees, communities should be able to welcome them and accord them the necessary help and support they need. There should not be any form of discrimination against refugees when it comes to essential services in the community like health, education, water and sanitation, and access to justice, for instance. Where conflicts arise between the refugees and host communities, dialogues between the two communities need to be held in order to foster peaceful resolution of conflict for peaceful co-existence. In this as well, refugees should not be denied employment opportunities for jobs that they do qualify for. This local integration efforts and posture rebuild the hope and lives of the refugees.

Livelihood’s support. Its well-known that refugees have limited livelihoods opportunities. While in Uganda, their way of life has changed as the jobs they might have previously had while in their country of origin are no more and yet they still need to fend for themselves and families. There is need therefore to have more livelihood interventions extended to the refugee communities including urban livelihoods in urban centers. Individuals or partners therefore working with refugee communities need to incorporate livelihood as a major component in their interventions. This will help strengthen their self-reliance and improve the standard of living of the refugees while in Uganda.

Donor support. Globally there has been a reduction of donor support and aid for refugee response. This has increased vulnerabilities of refugees due to reduced provision and access to essential services as a result of reduced resource envelop within a context where the hosting countries are not able to offer enough financial and material resources to meet the needs of refugees. We can all stand with and work together with refugees to build their trust in life and rebuild their lives and wellbeing.

As we celebrate the WRD, RLP’s calls all stakeholders to reflect on these challenges as we find collective solutions to the challenges that refugees face while in Uganda and also during flight.

Prepared by:

Ochieng Gabriel Emorut Caleb
Date: 24th May, 2024

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