By Jonathan Clayton
Renewing a strong appeal to regional leaders to make peace, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has praised the “open border” policy of Uganda which is currently receiving up to 500 refugees a day.
Grandi who is currently on an official visit to the East African country, now providing sanctuary to a total of some 1.4 million refugees, upheld Uganda’s treatment of those fleeing wars and persecution as a model for the rest of the world.
“I want to thank the Ugandan government, local government and its people… despite recent influxes Uganda has the most progressive refugee policies in Africa, if not the world,” Grandi told journalists after touring this refugee settlement.
Imvepi and neighbouring Rhino Camp, both located in Arua district, now provide some 245,000 mainly South Sudanese refugees with a temporary home.
“Almost 500 people a day come to Uganda…. All are allowed to come and receive protection, to mix freely, to work, to access basic services, the borders are open; its refugee policies are among the most progressive in the world,” he said.
Most of the refugees have fled the conflict in South Sudan north of Uganda, but a steady and growing number are also fleeing increasing insecurity in the Democratic Republic of Congo on its western border. Uganda also hosts around 50,000 refugees from Burundi.
Uganda now has the largest refugee population in Africa, more than half of whom are children. A quarter of all the people now living in Arua district are refugees while in neighbouring Yumbe district half of the entire population is made up of refugees. This puts added strain on already stretched local resources.
Grandi highlighted that refugees in Uganda often received parcels of land to grow food, were allowed to work and access education, health and justice services, but he warned the generosity of host communities who are also facing development challenges could not be taken for granted.
“We should not overly test the patience of people… We have to make sure local communities also benefit from the refugee presence,” he said.
He explained UNHCR and the Ugandan government had adopted a comprehensive strategy which supported grass roots’ initiatives aimed at fostering harmonious relationships between nationals and refugees.
Under this policy facilities, such as health clinics and water wells, set up to support the refugee presence are available to local communities. Hosting refugees can be a “win-win” for local communities and refugees, Grandi explained after touring a new well which will provide water to everyone living in the immediate vicinity.
Later this week, UNHCR will be launching an appeal for fresh funding to support this “whole of society” approach, also known as the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, with increased infrastructure investment.
Grandi met with several refugees many of whom told him they would go home if there was peace and security, but at the moment that was not the case. “We are confused, there is no peace there. We will go home if there is peace,” Sarah Utua, 24, told him who walked six weeks to Uganda with elderly parents and two children to flee fighting near her home.
“These people all want to go home… I would once again appeal to the leadership in South Sudan ‘Please make peace’,” Grandi said.
The High Commissioner was moved by the story of a man his own age who told him he had been a refugee in Uganda four times in his life.
“I want to go back and make sure my bones end their days there. This is the fourth time I have been a refugee. Uganda has been good to me but I want to go back,” Lasuba Yousto, 60, said.
Grandi also met with Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda to whom he reiterated UNHCR’s thanks for his country’s approach to the refugee situation and pledged to maintain and improve cooperation with the authorities in all areas.
Published on UNHCR on January 31, 2018