Otengo says whereas government has put in place what she calls an open-door policy to host any kind of refugees, some of those hosted instead; are hitting the country through terrorism activities.
“Hosting refugees may cost human lives. Sometimes we (Uganda) are hit by people who enter the country claiming for refugee status. This is an act of terrorism” Amuge explained.
She was addressing an AU conference on Resource Mobilization and Financing Humanitarian Action in Africa in Nairobi this morning.
Amb. Amuge added that not only do some refugees engage in those criminal acts, but there are also other costs Uganda is paying heavily as a result of her hospitality towards suffering people from other countries.
For example, Amuge noted that socially, refugees put a strain on health services, environment, national budget, security and defense among others.
“There are also political costs. Government must keep explaining to the citizens why Uganda has an open door policy for refugees even when Ugandan refugees may not be accorded the same outside Uganda. It becomes politically complicated. In some areas the land is given to refugees yet the citizens don’t have” she said as she narrated to the conference the cost of hosting refugees.
Ironically, some refugees when granted refugee status, choose to go to international media and demonize Uganda, something Amuge says costs a lot for government to clear it’s name.
“We also suffer environmental costs. We have had situations of forest degradation in refugee settlements for example in Bidibidi where people are searching for firewood as well as encroaching on forests to create small gardens for food” she said.
She noted that in spite of all these costs, support from the international community towards sustaining refugees remains minimal. She attributed this to what she called donor fatigue, the shift of priorities especially with COVID-19 outbreak where the West is dealing with illegal immigrants and have inadequate resources for refugees on African continent in addition corruption and unending crises on the continent.
She expressed dismay that whereas in June 2017 Uganda hosted a Solidarity Summit on refugees in Kampala where even the UN SG attended, a lot of support was pledged but out of the USD2bn pledged, only USD350m has so far been received largely through UN agencies and international organizations.
“The meeting was attended by a number of countries and international organizations. The main goal of the summit was to support and strengthen our country’s progressive and transformative approach to refugee protection through mobilizing new funding. It aimed at raising USD2bn to cater for the needs of refugees and the communities that host them. Only USD350m has so far been received” she said.
She said Uganda has been hosting refugees since 1940s where it settled over 7000 Polish refugees. She said as of October this year, the country had 1,549,181 refugees coming from 30 countries, with South Sudan having the largest number (61percent) followed by DRC (29 percent) and others from Burundi, Somalia among others.
She said the open door policy has enabled some refugees to even establish businesses in Uganda and that some of them even employ our nationals while others are boasting food production through agricultural activities.
“This shows refugees can contribute enormously to their host countries as well as return to their countries of origin and can be resourceful and productive. We cannot say Uganda is doing it perfectly but we try to do our best within our resources. No one chooses to be a refugee or an IDP. They are forced by circumstances” she said. She urged for more international support towards refugees and host communities through provision of adequate, flexible, predictable and consistent humanitarian funding.
The ambassador also observed the need for not only planning to finance humanitarian assistance but also emphasis to be put on silencing the guns in order to repatriate the refugees. She said this would also require work on post war recovery and reconstruction and rehabilitation. She challenged the continent to also look for other opportunities to fund refugees’ survival.