Kampala. A new study by International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) has picked faults with Uganda’s celebrated refugee policy, citing what it calls hurdles and gaps between rhetoric and reality in the policy.
The policy paper, titled ‘Uganda’s refugee policies: the history, the politics, the way forward’, says: “As the world looks to Uganda for best practices in refugee policy, it is vital to understand the gaps between rhetoric and reality, and the pitfalls of Uganda’s policy.”
“There is a danger that the promotion of progressive refugee policies becomes more rhetoric than reality, creating a smoke-screen that squeezes out meaningful discussion about robust alternatives. Policy-making has come at the expense of real qualitative change on the ground,” the paper adds.
The report, which was released yesterday by IRRI from its Ntinda offices in Kampala, also says refugees in urban areas continue to be excluded from any support, including aid provision, due to an ongoing focus on refugee settlements.
Ms Lucy Hovil, a senior researcher at IRRI, and author of the paper, said: “There has been a tendency to idealise Uganda’s refugee response, while there is another side to the story. The intention of this paper is not to belittle the progress made by Uganda but to ensure there is a robust critique to enable it to become much better.”
The paper also says local integration and access to citizenship have been virtually abandoned, leaving voluntary repatriation as the only solution on the table.
“Given the protracted crises in South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo, this remains unrealistic,” the report notes.
It further states that host communities remain unheard, with policy conversations largely taking place in Kampala and Geneva.
The report says many Ugandans and refugees have neither the economic resources nor sufficient political leverage to influence the policies meant to benefit them.
The crisis of refugee influx into Uganda unfolded at the same time as the UN adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, and states committed to implement a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework. Uganda then seized the opportunity and adopted its own strategy to implement these principles.
The policy paper urges donors to deliver on their promise of financial support.
It also recommends that repatriation cannot remain the only serious option on the table. The report recommends renewed discussion on local integration with Uganda communities and a dramatic increase in resettlement to wealthier states across the globe.
“Local communities hosting refugees must be consulted and their voices incorporated in a more meaningful and systematic way, if tensions within and between communities are to be avoided,” the report recommends.
It also says in order to enhance refugee self-reliance, the myth of the ‘local settlement’ needs to be debunked.