Uganda Welcomes Refugees with 'Progressive Policies'

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13 April, 2017

If you are a refugee, Uganda may be one of the better places to live.

The country's refugee policy is considered one of the most progressive in the world.

Newcomers are permitted freedom of movement. They can operate their own businesses. And for the most part, Ugandans are welcoming.

For years, Uganda has helped people from across Africa. Currently, there are more than 1.1 million refugees and asylum seekers in the country. Many have fled violence at home. They are from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

Solomon Osakan is a settlement officer in the office of Uganda's prime minister. He works with the United Nations humanitarian agency to direct refugee operations in the country. He says his country's refugee policy comes from wanting to help Africans in trouble.

"So, I think this policy emanates from our leaders. Previously, many of our leaders were displaced as refugees, they sought asylum in neighboring countries, and went as far as Europe. In that time, this changed their perception in thinking that when you are a refugee, you need to be supported to survive; otherwise, hostility only worsens."

The Ugandan system is opposite of the model followed in many other areas, where refugees are kept separate from the rest of the population and unable to leave.

Uganda has refugee "settlements," not camps. Host communities have donated much of the land for these settlements. Refugees receive a 50-meter by 50-meter piece of land for shelter and growing crops. The refugees are free to move around in the country. They also receive employment waivers for jobs, free healthcare and education.

Many refugees benefit from Uganda's open door policy. Joyce Alua is a refugee from South Sudan.

"It is good, because here, in Uganda here, we are feeling good. There is no fighting like South Sudan. And other things, also, they are good."

But not everyone is pleased. Near the recently-opened Imvepi settlement, some local people, said that "outsiders" are getting the jobs, not them. Charles Acema was one of the protesters.

"But the bad thing here is we are lacking of jobs. Those who are here, they do not give the jobs for us."

U.N. officials and Uganda's government say many of the jobs in the settlements require skills that are not always found in the local communities.

While concerned about the lack of jobs, Acema says he is happy Uganda is helping refugees.

"Yes,Yes, we know that Uganda is a God-loving country. That is why they welcome refugees here. Yes."

Yet many refugees at the settlement noted food shortages. U.N. officials say a lack of money for buying food is the main problem.

Last year, food supplies were cut by 50 percent for refugees who arrived before July 2015, except for those considered particularly vulnerable.

The United Nations says it needs about $500 million for its 2017 Uganda operations. As of the middle of March, it had only received about $35 million, seven percent of the total.

I'm Marsha James.

Jill Craig reported on this story for VOANews. Marsha James adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

asylum n. protection from arrest or expulsion from a country

benefit v. to be useful to; to receive help

waiver – n. the cancellation of an existing right or claim

emanate v. to come out from

perception – n. a mental image; an understanding or recognition

grievance – n. a feeling of being treated unfairly; a criticism

particularly vulnerableadj. very needy

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