18 August 2017

Uganda: Let's Continue Providing a Home for Those Fleeing Conflict


War and conflict do not, and will never, define Africa.

However, like certain corners around the world, our beautiful continent continues to struggle with turmoil, instability and fear, forcing millions of innocent civilians to run for dear lives.

In addition to civilians from host nations, many humanitarian workers, providing critical life-saving and key basic services to victims of war, face immense risks, including to their lives.

It is for such reasons that the United Nations commemorates World Humanitarian day every August 19. Designated in 2008, the day rallies us to advocate for the safety and security of humanitarian workers, and for the dignified survival and well-being of people affected by crises.

This year, we focus on civilians caught up in conflict. With the theme 'civilians are not a target,' it calls for leaders everywhere to do everything in their power to protect civilians caught in armed conflict.

With its open-door policy in welcoming fleeing refugees, Uganda continues to lead Africa and has set a global best practice for the international community, including Uganda's neighbours, to heed.

Described by the secretary-general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, as a symbol of integrity in refugee protection, Uganda's progressive policy sees refugees settled in communities, amongst Ugandans, as opposed to camps.

This dignified approach where refugees are provided a small piece of land for shelter and cultivation sets an example based on humanity. In addition, refugees enjoy freedom of movement and can seek employment, go to school or start a business in the areas they are settled.

The generosity and investments of the Ugandan government and people in maintaining an open-door, transformative policy, is unique, particularly at a time when the asylum space is shrinking across the world.

A recent UNDP study found that the government and local communities spent over $323 million in 2016/17 on the protection and management of refugees and the provision of essential services, which is equivalent to 46 per cent of the education budget or 62 per cent of the health budget.

The government of Uganda and the United Nations system are committed to delivering as one.

At the heart of this commitment is the United Nations Development Assistance Framework, which is fully aligned to the government's second National Development Plan, and includes how the rights and needs of displaced persons must be understood not only as "humanitarian" in nature, but equally as development challenges to be addressed in concert with the needs of host communities and local institutions.

Since 2015, the United Nations and World Bank in Uganda have supported the government's Settlement Transformative Agenda through the Refugee and Host Population Empowerment Strategy (ReHoPE). This strategy supports Uganda in building resilience and self-reliance of refugees as well as their host communities.

Uganda's refugee-hosting model is an inspiration regionally and globally. Uganda has invested significantly in making this possible. However, for the model to be sustained, it needs our support.

In June this year, the world came to Uganda to celebrate this model as well as commit to supporting it during the Uganda Solidarity Summit for Refugees.

Funds totalling over $350 million were pledged by various countries, development agencies and private sector entities to support efforts towards supporting over 1.3 million refugees and some 502,000 people in host communities in 12 districts in Uganda.

This support will go a long way in providing some of the most vulnerable people in society with healthcare, education, water and sanitation, and improved livelihoods.

Apart from supporting refugees, Uganda also deserves tremendous praise for the hundreds of humanitarian workers she sends into conflict zones across the world, to provide services to those affected by crises.

Ugandan doctors and health workers were amongst some of the first deployed to support the World Health Organisation (WHO) to fight the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia in 2014.

Ugandans are also present as aid workers in South Sudan, Somalia and various other parts of the globe supporting those caught up in crisis. Several Ugandans have lost their lives in these processes.

These examples clearly demonstrate the dedication of Uganda's people and government to serving humanity.

I invite each one of us to applaud the government and people of Uganda for their dedication to humanitarian affairs and the values associated with providing dignified assistance. I invite Ugandans to share this knowledge with future generations to help nurture this national commitment to protect lives and livelihoods.

As we commemorate World Humanitarian day, let us remember those who have lost their lives in the service of humanity, and let us re-commit to ensuring those that serve at the frontlines of conflict are provided the safety, dignity and respect they deserve.

The author is the UN resident coordinator/UNDP resident representative.


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