REVEALED! Why Uganda Is A Model For Dealing With Refugees

REVEALED! Why Uganda Is A Model For Dealing With Refugees

THIS week French authorities began clearing the “jungle”, a refugee camp in Calais that has become symbolic of the failures of Europe’s policies towards asylum-seekers and other migrants. In Calais as in much of the West, and indeed in most of the world, refugees have few rights and face hostility from locals. Refugees in Turkey and Lebanon, respectively host to the world’s largest and third-largest such populations, face severe restrictions on employment, education and healthcare. In Kenya and Ethiopia—both of which host hundreds of thousands of refugees—national laws curb free movement, confining most to designated camps. Yet in this bleak global context, Uganda stands out. Why?

Uganda’s refugee policy has been lauded by the World Bank, Oxford Refugee Studies Centre, the UN’s refugee commission and others as one of the most generous anywhere. It is home to more than half a million refugees from neighbouring countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and South Sudan. Since 2006 they been granted freedom of movement (subject to limited restrictions), employment rights and equal access to services such as healthcare and education. Refugees can vote and stand for office at the local level. Some property rights are guaranteed: they can own movable property, such as cars and machinery. All refugees are granted a plot of land to cultivate. They are also able to lease other land and start businesses. It is a sharp contrast with neighbouring Kenya, where refugees who have been granted asylum cannot work without paying costly fees for short-term work permits.

The Ugandan approach has numerous benefits. Farming, running businesses and trading with local residents discourages dependency, reducing the need for handouts. Only 1% of refugees in Uganda are entirely dependent on aid. Freedom of movement means refugees are not warehoused for indefinite periods; refugees have a considerable degree of dignity and independence. And host communities benefit too. Trade between the two groups has flourished. Relations between refugees and local residents are generally peaceful. Intermarriages have been reported.

Other countries are beginning to follow the Ugandan example. Ethiopia promises to grant employment rights soon. In Kalobeyei, in north-west Kenya, the local government is considering granting refugees small plots of land and allow them to sell their produce. But in many countries politics may scupper progress. Uganda has a relatively low unemployment rate for the region: allowing refugees to enter the labour market may be trickier in other countries, especially in those where youth unemployment is high. Lifting restrictions on freedom of movement is also likely to be met with hostility elsewhere. Policies which appear generous to refugees do not win many votes in the West. And Uganda, too, has some way to go: refugees and their children cannot attain full citizenship, meaning a long-term solution for those in its settlements remains out of reach.

THE ECONOMIST