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Uganda has been hosting refugees and asylum seekers since achieving its independence in 1962. The country has been praised for having one of the most progressive and generous refugee laws and policy regimes in the world. In fact, the 2016 United Nations Summit for Refugees declared Uganda’s refugee policy a model. The 2006 Refugee Act and 2010 Refugee Regulations allow for integration of refugees within host communities with refugees having access to the same services (education, health, water and sanitation) as nationals. They have freedom of movement and are free to pursue livelihood opportunities, including access to the labour market and to establish businesses.
To sustain and expand this progressive and generous out-of-camp refugee approach Uganda seeks to strengthen the resilience and self-reliance of refugees and their host communities. A key challenge facing Uganda is private sector engagement, to take advantage of the growing market and to leverage the additional human capital.
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Uganda remains a low-income economy, with an annual per capita income of US$ 773 in 2016/17. Notwithstanding, Uganda is now hosts over 1.3 million refugees and asylum seekers (up from over 500,000 at the beginning of 2016), and is now the largest host country in Africa. A recent UN Development Programme study found that Uganda’s expenditure on refugee protection and management was over US$ 323 million in 2016/17 quantifying Uganda’s contribution in addition to its generous hospitability.
The impact of increasing numbers of refugees on Uganda’s host communities is significant given that refugees are settled within districts, as opposed to camps. The refugee hosting communities are located in the poorest, most vulnerable and least developed parts of the country. Agricultural productively is low (due to environmental degradation, climatic conditions, and poor soil quality/overuse), social service delivery systems are weak, and economic opportunities are limited due to the remoteness of settlements and limited infrastructure.
Each refugee household is provided with a plot of land, up to 30 square metres, by the Government of Uganda. As settlements exceed their maximum capacity, the size of plots provided to refugees is reducing. The suitability of land for agricultural production, and the availability of water, varies. Informal land usage agreements are practiced whereby refugees informally ask for land for cultivation beyond their allocation, and host communities provide land for cultivation in both areas under certain arrangements. In this case, host-communities give fallow land to refugees on the condition that it will be returned to them. The opportunities are mutual. The land owners’ benefit is the charge for land rent lease and the land is easier to till after it is opened and cultivated for a short time. On the other hand, refugees benefit from the harvests or sale of crops.
As the numbers continue to increase, the challenge is how to sustain Uganda’s progressive and generous out-of-camp refugee approach.
In response to nationally-led efforts to respond and manage the ongoing influx, the UN system in Uganda together with the World Bank developed the Refugee and Host Population Empowerment (ReHoPE) Strategic Framework to enhance the Government’s Settlement Transformative Agenda (STA), and strengthen the resilience and self-reliance of host communities and refugees. The Government-owned framework promotes multi-year, multi-sector and coordinated interventions that involve both refugees and the host communities. ReHoPE is a key component in the application of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF).
ReHoPE overall objectives are:
- Building capacity and strengthening ownership of results among community institutions and local governments through a community-driven development approach (including local planning, implementation and monitoring);
- Improving delivery (access, quality, and efficiency) of basic social services;
- Expanding economic opportunities and sustainable livelihoods especially for women and youth; and
- Addressing environmental degradation in refugee-hosting areas.
The development of ReHoPE was collaborative and participatory, at the heart of which is strong government leadership. The ReHoPE initiative is designed as a collective humanitarian and development response to support the Government’s Settlement Transformation Agenda for refugee-hosting districts. ReHoPE provides the basis for common programming principles, framework, and tools between the Government of Uganda, UN agencies, multilateral development banks, humanitarian and development actors, and the private sector.
The ReHoPE Strategic Framework demonstrates how development partners can come in behind a government owned agenda in support of a border, dignified refugee hosting model. The ReHoPE Strategic Framework provides a blueprint for other refugee hosting countries, and their development partners more broadly, on the application of a comprehensive refugee response that can be adapted to various context.