Revisiting the refugee–host relationship in Uganda

Uganda’s refugee policy is praised worldwide for its promotion of self-reliance as a sustainable livelihood strategy for refugees, with progressive land-allocation and free-movement-for-work policies.

A new study by Noragric PhD Fellow Ingunn Bjørkhaug draws on Oxford University Refugee Studies Centre's research on refugee economics to examine sustainable solutions that benefit the host populations as well as the refugees themselves.

Focusing on Uganda's oldest and largest refugee settlement in Nakivale, Bjørkhaug examined what opportunities refugees have for self-reliance. What international, national, and local markets can refugees participate in, and what are the effects of this on the host populations living alongside them? 

Based on data collected at Nakivale in 2013, Bjørkhaug explored the market-based approach to refugee economies, taking the following factors into consideration:

  • Land distribution in Nakivale is not sustainable.

  • Corruption strongly influences the refugee and host populations living in Nakivale.

  • The impact on the local host population is not uniform.

  • Among refugees, the Somali–Congolese relationship is exploitative, not amicable.

Economic profit for some, poverty for others

Bjørkhaug argues that Uganda’s refugee policies create economic profit for some, but poverty for others, resulting in the welcoming open door being on the verge of collapse. Alternative refugee-protection approaches should be taken that lower the pressure on land allocation and enable a self-sustainable approach that protects the host population, whilst providing refugees with some degree of self-reliance, says Bjørkhaug.

Land allocation should prioritise the welfare of Nakivale citizens

The study concludes that, with assistance from the international community, the Ugandan government should:

  • Prioritize the welfare of its citizens who live in Nakivale in the national land-allocation strategy.

  • Enact clear and consistent legislation regarding native land ownership and use of eviction policies, and design economic reforms to eliminate systemic corruption.

  • Include non-agricultural income-generating activities in the self-reliance policy, and finance entrepreneurs through governmental or international funding.

  • Allow refugees to move away from the settlement without loss of refugee status or access to assistance.

Read the article in the Journal on Migration and Human Security:
Revisiting the Refugee–Host Relationship in Nakivale Refugee Settlement: A Dialogue with the Oxford Refugee Studies Centre by Ingunn Bjørkhaug.

Published 8. September 2020 - 14:30 - Updated 8. September 2020 - 17:25