Throughout 2013, Uganda continued to receive Refugees mainly from South Sudan, DR Congo, Burundi and Somalia. This is attributed to political oppression, armed conflicts and other human rights abuses in those countries.
Picture: South Sudan refugees crowding a water source in Adjumani
By March 2018, Uganda was home to over 1.4 million refugees (UNHCR, 2018). These Refugees, are hosted in gazetted rural settlements in 11 districts of Northern Uganda, West Nile and South West. In some districts such as Yumbe and Adjumani, Refugees are almost more than the locals. The influx is stifling service delivery systems by hosting Local Governments (LGs) yet LGs are not legally mandated to provide social services to refugees.
The Refugee Act, 2006 gives the sole responsibility of refugee management and protection to Central Government through the Office of Prime Minister (OPM). This literally means that the hands of LGs are tied to play an active role in providing emergency response and durable solutions to Refugees. Because the key regional and international players have failed to provide sustainable solutions to recurring violence in Greats Lake region, LGs are still experiencing Refugee inflows. This is placing enormous pressure on the already overstressed capacity of LGs to delivery key social services both to locals and refugees. For instance, Refugees in transit and reception centres are provided for by LGs while self-settled refugees although regarded as non-existent by Government, it is the responsibility of LGs under the Local Government Act, 1997 to provide for them since they have been socially integrated. In fact, LGs only providing service to locals could imply discrimination and do-harm to created social harmony between host communities and Refugees.
In addition, LGs are constrained by the fact that they do not receive supplementary funding from Government to cater for growing refugee needs. Perhaps Government has recognized the dilemma LGs face in meeting refugee and host communities’ needs through initiating development frameworks such as ReHoPe and DRDRIP. These initiatives are aimed at enhancing self-reliance and social integration and improving access to basic services by both refugees and host communities. However, these empowering frameworks may be undermined by the fact that existing legal frameworks give LGs restricted mandate in refugee response and management.
Picture: Women refugees receiving antenatal care at health facility in Koboko
Besides, LGs are not actively involved in planning and budgeting for social services for Refugees. For example, the national planning guidelines lack modalities to guide LGs on how to integrate Refugee issues into District Development Plans (DDPs). This has left hosting LGs as spectators in meeting Refugee needs because their hands are tied by legal frameworks. Nevertheless, LGs remain at the centre of providing durable solutions to the growing Refugee needs. The legal frameworks encumber LGs from receiving supplementary funding from Government and to lobby for increase in staff ceiling for key sectors.
Conclusion: This therefore, calls for expeditious review and amendment of legal frameworks to allow LGs more mandate with clear defined roles. LGs should also be provided with technical and financial resources to respond to growing Refugees needs that are suffocating LGs service delivery systems.
Moses Muwanga, Partner Coordination & Governance Expert VNG International