Refugees gather at a gate at the Kagoma Reception Centre in western Uganda. | Photo taken from SmugMug
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the worst-affected by conflict. To this day an estimated total of 4.5 million Congolese have been displaced due to political and ethnic divisions. The country has experienced a history of violence and civil conflict since their independence from Belgium in 1960.
Thousands of refugees continue to cross Lake Albert by boat to Uganda to escape horrific inter-ethnic violence. Reception centres in Uganda have undergone a notable influx this month in particular. The average number of daily refugee arrivals in June was 145 per day. In July, however, the number of refugee arrivals more than doubled to 302 per day with roughly two thirds being children below the age of 18.
Uganda has been one of the most receptive countries to refugees, and throughout all of Africa, it remains one of the largest hosts to people escaping dangerous conditions. An estimated 1.3 million refugees, most of them from South Sudan, DRC and Burundi are currently hosted in this land-locked country, however, the recent influx of newcomers is placing a strain on the nation's resources. In a recent press release, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) stated that the country does not have enough resources to cater for all refugees who arrived since the beginning of June.
This begs the question: What should the international community at large know - and by extension, do - to support refugees in this situation and those who help them?
The 2019 Refugee Response Plan for Uganda has urged the international community to provide $1.03 billion for humanitarian aid, $147 million for humanitarian programmes has been funded so far. These shortages have led to many problems, primarily the closure of life-saving programs for numerous refugees and asylum seekers.
Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one example of an organisation in Uganda that assists in providing education, resettlement, and other crucial social services to congolese refugees. Once people have the proper documentation, the IRC helps them find housing and employment within 6 months of arrival. They also help with enrolling children into schools and adults into English speaking classes. The organisation hopes to launch a youth literacy program this July to help younger immigrants with English.
Similarly, a partnership between Windle International Uganda (WIU) - an NGO managing education for refugees - and Arizona State University has seen the development of online courses focusing on information communication technology, education, business, and social work, thus enabling refugees to thrive in Uganda.
Among many other initiatives hoping to provide support and relief to refugees in Uganda is the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). This organisation worked primarily to improve the lives of thousands of refugees in Uganda by implementing critical protection and psychosocial services. Numerous studies and a great deal of litterature suggests that refugees are at increased risk for a range of mental health and psychosocial problems. Unfortunately, in January 2018 HIAS was forced to close its operations in Uganda due to "unforeseen funding restrictions." Despite this major setback, HIAS has remained committed to the well-being of refugees and is actively searching for opportunities to resume their work there.
"UNHCR and partners working on the refugee response in Uganda have received $150 million, 17 percent of the total $927 million needed," said UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, in Geneva. In a similar tone, Melchizedek Malile, the Acting Country Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), recently stated that "Uganda has some of the most progressive refugee laws and policies in the world yet their request for more aid falls on deaf ears, and aid appeals continue to be grossly under-funded." Basic relief items are the most urgent priority at this time, in addition to transportation and immediate psychosocial care for trauma.
"Wealthier nations need to act on their pledges of responsibility-sharing. Countries like Uganda are struggling to cope as best they can, and they urgently need resources to reduce the suffering of desperate refugees," Malile added.
Uganda appears to already have an active presence of organisations and programs with individuals who are eager to provide refugees from the DRC with the help and resources that they need. However, the underfunding of these programs makes this critical work almost impossible. "With this new upsurge in refugee arrivals," Malile continues, "we strongly urge donor agencies and the international community to scale up their support for refugees in Uganda. Arriving refugees urgently need shelter, food, clean water and sanitation. With more donor funding, more lives will be saved."
Note to readers:
An up-to-date UNHCR refugee influx dashboard for DR Congo refugees arriving in Uganda can be found here.
Nina Plummer is an EAI Research Assistant, conducting research on malnutrition, early childhood development, and learning outcomes.