UN praises Uganda's treatment of refugees fleeing from neighbouring countries

Newly arriving refugees to Uganda are overwhelmingly young and women, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (Will Boase)

Newly arriving refugees to Uganda are overwhelmingly young and women, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (Will Boase)

More than 100 000 refugees arrived in in Uganda 2015 alone, making the country the third-largest refugee-hosting country in Africa.

Several thousand refugees from South Sudan and Burundi have fled to Uganda over the last few weeks, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a recent statement.

At least 2 840 South Sudanese refugees have fled to Uganda at the end of February and the beginning of March following violent clashes between government and opposition fighters in Jonglei and Western Equatoria States in South Sudan.

The UNHCR said there had been fighting in Yambio, the capital of Western Equatoria State, where Ugandan soldiers were hunting Ugandan exiles of Joseph Kony’s Lord Resistance Army (LRA).

“Refugees arrived in Uganda from South Sudan tired and hungry due to the ongoing food insecurity in many parts of the country. Some of the refugees reported having walked for days in order to reach safety,” the statement read.

“Intense fighting was reported in Yambio and Jonglei while in other areas, militias were reportedly burning down villages, looting, destroying farms, kidnapping youth and committing acts of sexual assault.”

Fighting in Yambio broke out in January between government soldiers and the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM), a militia, and has since displaced thousands of people, reported “The Monitor”.

The SSNLM is led by ex-SPLA commanders from Western Equatoria. They signed a preliminary peace agreement with the government in November last year, but the deal has not yet been implemented.

“New arrivals were disproportionately young and female. In Kiryandongo, 91 per cent of new arrivals were children under the age of eighteen and female adults,” the UNHCR statement said.

Also, this week, a total of 253 Burundian refugees arrived in Uganda, fleeing Bujumbura and its neighbouring areas like Kirundo province, reported “The Monitor”.

“Refugees reported that armed groups were looting, killing civilians, committed acts of sexual and gender-based violence and kidnapped youths,” UNHCR said.

Burundi’s crisis was triggered by Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial decision in April last year to run for a third term, which he went on to win in a July election.

More than 400 people were killed and more than 240 000 left Burundi to escape the violence.

Last December the UNHCR reported that over half a million people fleeing violence and human rights abuses, mostly from South Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), had found protection and safety in Uganda.

By early December, Uganda had become home to almost 511 000 refugees and asylum-seekers, the highest number ever in the country’s history.

More than 100 000 arrived in 2015 alone, making Uganda the third-largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, after Ethiopia (736 000) and Kenya (594 000).

Uganda is widely recognised as having progressive and forward-thinking refugee and asylum policies, said the UNHCR.

Upon receiving refugee status, refugees are provided with small areas of land in villages integrated within the local host community; a pioneering approach that enhances social cohesion and allows both refugees and host communities to live together peacefully.

Refugees have access to the same services as Ugandan nationals, have the right to work and to establish their own businesses.

They enjoy freedom of movement and are given land for agricultural use, reducing dependency on humanitarian aid.

The government has also included refugee management and protection within its own domestic planning in the National Development Plan (NDP II), through the refugee Settlement Transformative Agenda.

“This approach means Uganda has created a fertile environment for including long-term development planning into the humanitarian response for refugees and their host communities,” said UNHRC. - ANA

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