Officials managing refugee affairs in Uganda have told the East Africa Legislative Assembly (Eala) MPs on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution Committee that Uganda's 'open policy' is what makes it outstanding in hosting refugees.
The Eala MPs, including Mr Victor Burikukiye (Burundi), Ms Mary Mugyenyi (Uganda), Ms Fancy Nkuhi (Tanzania), Mr Thomas Dut (South Sudan), Ms Francine Rutazana (Rwanda), Ms Celestine Rwigema (Rwanda) and Jean Marie Muhirwa (Burundi) visited Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Isingiro District on Wednesday.
They were reviewing the living standards for the exiles and the services they receive, and whether they conform to international conventions on refugees.
Nakivale settlement (71.3 square miles) hosts 10,0262 refugees, while the neigbouring Orucinga settlement (8.4 square miles) has 6,986 refugees.
"What makes Uganda outstanding is its open policy. We receive every one, all refugees are enjoying rights enjoyed by Ugandans," Mr Mark Mutaawe, the settlement commandant, said while responding to questions posed by the MPs.
"There is free movement policy, they (refugees) can go anywhere as long as they have (identification) documents. They can enjoy education and health services and participate in business except politics," he added.
Mr Mutaawe further said each household is given a 12x22 metre piece of land for shelter and accommodation and another 50x100 metres for cultivation.
Mr Innocent Kaheirwe, who represented the commissioner for refugees, said: "There is freedom of movement, right to work and establish business... That is what makes Uganda refugee policy unique compared to other countries."
The officials, however, said there is a lot of pressure on land in Nakivale because of the increasing number of refugees.
The acting western refugee desk officer, Ms Polyne Abina, said they are guiding funding partners to introduce other sources of livelihood for refugees to stop reliance on agriculture and thus demand for land.
The officials also said funding from international partners has also reduced because the donor countries are also now receiving refugees.
Ms Connie Alupo, the protection manager of Humanitarian Initiative Just Relief Aid, said there are many cases of gender-based violence in the settlements.
Women are harassed and beaten mainly by their husbands because the latter control household resources, including food. She said some women are raped.
Whereas some refugees go back to their countries on their own, the officials, however, said majority are not willing to return to their countries claiming they will not be safe.
Burundian refugees in the settlement gave the MPs a petition highlighting human rights abuses back home and asked the East African Community to end the political crisis and restore peace and security back in their countries.
The committee chairperson, Mr Burikukiye, said the information about the refugees will guide their deliberations.
Refugee population. Uganda hosts about 1.15 million refugees; 785,000 from South Sudan, 284,000 from DR Congo, 33,000 from Burundi, 22,000 from Somalia, 14,000 from Rwanda and 14,000 from other countries, including Kenya, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Pakistan.