A report by the International Refugee Rights Initiative reveals a mix of frustration, unemployment, post-traumatic stress and alcohol abuse escalating quarrels among refugee communities in northern Uganda.
Uganda is home to 1.3 million refugees — 833,000 of them from South Sudan, among whom the research was carried out.
Amol Dorcus has lived as refugee in Uganda since early 2014 after running away from armed conflict in South Sudan. With Uganda’s free land policy for refugees on arrival, Amol got her 7.6 meters by 9.1 meters share of land in the Nyumanzi settlement, Adjumani district. She says the land is not sufficient, however, especially for those who want to grow crops for food.
Like most refugees, in order to survive, she had to enter an agreement with a member of the host community. The deal allows her to grow crops on their land on the condition that she pays some money at year end.
Dorcus says conflict arose when a member of the host community declined to respect the agreement.
“But when these crops do well, so, the owner of that land, actually, or an unknown person will just come, they will take them. So, without you knowing, and you’re staying in the settlement. We share the borehole with the host community. These boreholes also, they are not enough. Sometimes the women and the children can just collide at the water point and it’s like kind of bringing in conflict,” Dorcus said.
Land wrangling between South Sudan refugees and host communities are just one of many conflicts going on in refugee settlements in Uganda.
Among other challenges are recruitment of refugees as combatants, unemployment, post-traumatic stress and alcohol abuse.
This was revealed in a report released Wednesday by the International Refugee Rights initiative which described its findings as a cocktail of frustrations in which refugees are engulfed.
Combatant recruitment adds to problems
Thijs Van Laer, the lead researcher for the International Refugee Rights initiative, points out that another issue of concern is the presence in refugee settlements of individuals involved in the South Sudanese conflict.
“Our research has confirmed that several parties to the conflict have attempted to recruit refugees as combatants. Although it does remain difficult to establish the full scope of this practice, and to what extent that has continued since the signing of a peace agreement in 2018. But members of the warring parties have visited the refugee settlements, sometimes to reunite with their families that are staying there, but also at times to target political opponents,” Van Laer said.
The 833,000 refugees from South Sudan live in settlements in northern Uganda. In the three districts of Adjumani, Lamwo, and Arua, which have the largest refugee populations, the number of refugees exceeds the number of Ugandan citizens. This has escalated conflict in the settlements.
In order to deter some of these conflicts, the Ugandan government and the U.N. Refugee Agency deliberately separated communities in some settlements to avoid incidents.
Ndahirwe Innocent, the government Refugee Integration and Legal Officer, told VOA that the government recently got partial funding from a World Bank grant worth $336 million that will be used to resolve land wrangles between host communities and refugees.
On refugee recruitment, Ndahirwe says they have heard of reports of husbands involved in the conflict visiting their wives in Uganda.
“It’s true we’ve picked [up] information that their husbands, not that they are armed, but they just sneak in through porous borders to check on their families. And of course, the communities keep this information with them. So, by the time we get this information, you cannot easily get these people. So, what we are doing is to, of course, increase security vigilance,” Ndahirwe said.
The report is urging the Ugandan government, UNHCR and the international community to increase funding for refugees in Uganda in an effort to build harmony and peace among the different communities.