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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Uganda: A Safe Haven for Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Uganda has an open door policy towards refugees fleeing their country of origin seeking protection that is crucial for their life. Uganda has a long history of hosting refugees and asylum seekers since the 1940s giving them access to the country and protecting the refugees from risks related to repatriation and refusal of entry.

Uganda is the largest refugee hosting country in Africa and third in the world hosting over 1.3 million refugees and asylum seekers from conflict affected areas such as the DRC, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi among others. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees states that Uganda has hosted over 160,000 refugees per year since 1959 depending on security conditions in neighbouring countries.

Uganda has had progressive refugee laws since 1951 such as the 1967 protocol committing to protect persons fleeing from persecution, the OAU convention in 1967 granting Prima facie refugee status to refugees fleeing from conflicts.

Against this background, the government of Uganda has decided to offer safe haven to over 2000 Afghan refugees fleeing from the Afghan crisis amidst Taliban persecution. The tradition of hosting refugees and other person’s in need prompted president Museveni’s readiness for Uganda to provide assistance including temporary hosting of some affected persons in the Afghan crisis.

What is unfolding in Afghanistan today is humanitarian crisis of global proportions. The Taliban have embarked on a campaign to eliminate all former collaborators of the American mission indiscriminately. Women and children as always are the most affected as they are left undefended.

The crisis in Syria should be a great learning stone for what is bound to unravel following the wanton crimes committed by ISIS after the Arab spring failed to overthrow the government of Bashar Al Saad.

Ms. Esther Anyakun, Minister of state for Relief, disaster preparedness and refugees noted that;

“They have requested us to host 2,000 refugees. We are expecting them to be brought in shifts of 500. So, UNHCR secured Imperial Hotels in Entebbe as transit centre for them to first of all arrive and be screened.”

The United States has joint security and bilateral arrangements with Uganda for health and security. Uganda is also identified as a regional security hub, has been recommended for its fight against the Al-Shabab in Somalia and considered as a major player in the diplomatic relations of the Great Lakes Region.

Polish refugees in Uganda during the 1940’s

Historically, this will not be the first time for Uganda to host refugees from another continent. Between 1942 and 1944, over 7000 Polish refugees were received in Uganda and settled in two camps of Nyabyeya in Masindi district and Koja (Mpunge) in Mukono district.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, by 1948 most of the Polish refugees in Uganda had been resettled in Britain, Canada and Australia.

Currently, over 90% of refugees hosted in Uganda are from Rwanda, the DRC, South Sudan, Burundi, Eritrea and Somalia. Refugees in Uganda live in settlements alongside local residents and often allowed to work. Ugandans have also been refugees in other countries for instance in the 1980s with over 200,000 Ugandans living as refugees in Sudan, over 40,000 living in settlements in Zaire as a result of the 1979 insurgency after the fall of Iddi Amin and the withdrawal of the Tanzanian liberation army.

By hosting over 2,000 Afghan refugees, Uganda highlights its commitment in addressing the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. Uganda also fulfils its obligation as a refugee hosting country further demonstrating the peace, security and stability that has been guaranteed by the NRM government and President Museveni.

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