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Uganda offers sanctuary to refugees while global leaders renege on aid promises

The “Pearl of Africa” is now the third largest host country of refugees in the world, after welcoming an average of 2 000 displaced men, women and children every day for the past 11 months. 

The new statistics, released on Monday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, come less than a week before Uganda’s Solidarity Summit – a conference aimed to mobilise international support for those affected by the South Sudanese Civil War.

Given the recent resurgence of nationalist movements across the globe, Uganda bears a remarkably liberal asylum regime, providing its refugees with access to personal property, education, employment and healthcare services. But broken promises from international partners alongside ongoing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and South Sudan have strained Uganda’s resources.

Only 18% of the $781-million in humanitarian aid promised by the UN has been delivered this year, leaving Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to face a grisly Catch 22: maintain an open borders policy and risk thousands succumbing to starvation and disease or refuse the displaced peoples and hope they’re not confronted with violence while searching for shelter elsewhere.

Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, said: “Despite the dire need, and multiple appeals by Uganda and the UN for increased funding, [the global community] has consistently failed to respond.”

Several Western leaders have recently curbed efforts to accept refugees from Africa and the Middle East, pledging instead to assist in resettlement policies that keep individuals closer to their country of origin. Uganda’s plight appears to call that commitment into question. In the face of huge funding shortages, the World Food Programme and more than 50 other aid agencies have been forced to effectively beg donors to show compassion.

The weight of the dilemma presents itself when one considers recent UN Children’s Fund reports that indicate some 86% of those looking to Uganda for sanctuary are women and children. Moreover, the flow of migrants doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

An alleged coup attempt in South Sudan in December 2013 erupted into a conflict that continues to cause rampant famine, ethnic violence and purported episodes of genocide. In this past year alone, more than 737 000 refugees have fled the country and the international community seems reluctant to act.

The Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees will take place in Kampala on June 22 and 23. The UN will appeal for $8-billion in emergency response funding for the next four years. 

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Peter Rothpletz
Peter Rothpletz is an American writer and contributor to the Mail & Guardian. An alumnus of Yale University's Journalism Initiative, he primarily reports on international affairs, civil conflict, and radical extremism.

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