The United States of America are rolling out a welcome mat to more than a million people living in Uganda’s refugees’ camps by giving Uganda more than $25 million in humanitarian aid.
The financial aid is to help the nation cope with a huge influx of refugees fleeing conflict in eastern Africa.
US ambassador in Kampala Deborah Malac said her government recognises Uganda's effort in hosting more than a million refugees.
Uganda hosts refugees coming from various countries in eastern Africa, notably Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Eritrea. It also takes care of more than 1.5 million refugees who escaped the brutal civil war raging in neighbouring South Sudan since December 2013.
According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, more than 1.5 million people have been forced to flee South Sudan and seek safety in Uganda since conflict erupted in December 2013. This makes South Sudan Africa’s largest refugee crisis and the world’s third largest after Syria and Afghanistan, with less attention and chronic levels of underfunding.
With an extremely volatile security situation forcing more citizens to flee, the latest influx is straining the capacity of transit and reception centres, which are too small for the growing number of arrivals.
Kenya, neighbouring Uganda to the east, hosts refugee camp Dadaab that houses thousands of Somali refugees. However, recently Kenya vowed that it would shut down its refugee camps, home to as many as 600 000 people. This triggered global concern that another mass exodus of people is about to take shape, similar to the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe.
The plan to empty out the camps, which include the world's largest refugee complex Dadaab with at least 330 000 residents, prompted unease that the East African nation might be taking its lead from Europe, where there has been widespread rejection of those seeking safety.
However, to the happiness of the refugees,the court in Kenya blocked the planned closure.The concern was whether Kenya would justify in demanding that the international community provide more assistance for the migrants when its authorities were planning to empty out the camps.
US ambassador Malac praised Uganda's "very progressive policy" towards refugees: "We applaud that the government is committed to keeping the door open to refugees." She says the $25.2 million will be used to improve water and sanitation in refugee camps, fight gender-based violence and ensure ongoing protection.
Malac called for other countries to "step up and provide support" for the UN refugee agency and refugee-hosting countries, saying that there appeared to be "no end in sight" to the violence in South Sudan. Malac urged "more of a response from the international community, not just from the usual actors."
The UN report says more than 52 000 South Sudanese refugees have been arrived in Uganda since the start of the year and the numbers are currently growing by more than 4 000 per day.
The Ugandan minister for refugees, Hilary Onek, said the scale of arrivals is stretching the capacity of one of the world's poorest countries. The minister said that, “currently Uganda has 600 000 South Sudanese who call Uganda as their home, 220 000 Congolese, 45 000 Burundians, 17 000 Rwandese, over 40 000 Somali, 3 300 Ethiopians, 12 000 Eritreans and 500 Pakistani refugees.”
Usually, refugees are displaced people who have been admitted to a country because they are unable or unwilling to return to their homeland for reasons such as war, natural disaster or fear of persecution.
The minister says the number of refugees in Uganda has strained the economic standing of the country as both the locals and foreign population have to be fed from the meager resource basket. "We are worried about the load we are bearing," Onek said. "It's getting a little heavy for us to manage."
Uganda has been praised for offering one of the most favourable refugee protection environments in the world providing for freedom of movement, the right to work and land for refugee camps.
However, there have been isolated incidents of local politicians rallying people against refugees. Recently, police and residents near Nakivale refugee camp in the southwest of Uganda clashed in a dispute over land allocation to refugees.