We witnessed the death of the longtime acclaimed “Uganda Hospitality” towards refugees. This notion which has been imposed for a long time on us and which was used by smart people in order to fundraise was put to the test and did not survive. We no longer hear those sweet voices, “We love refugees, we are Africans, we are all children of God, human rights for all…”.
At first they stopped the entry of all those who are looking for asylum running away from persecution and violence, even those running away from live bullets were not allowed. We all kept quiet, retreated to our inner side of “criminalization of refugees and asylum seekers” in Uganda. They corrupted our minds with “we understand that” during this period.
Secondly, they closed their offices and asked their personnel to be at home leaving refugees in the hands of nobody, exposed to all forms of abuses, and we all kept quiet because the life of such sub-human being does not matter so much. In what was said the safety on humanitarian workers “how can we harbor the thought that the protection of the lives of hundreds of humanitarian workers is superior to the protection of the lives of thousands of refugees?”
They came with food distribution to the most vulnerable, and as much as refugees fall into this category of people, many were denied food. We all kept quiet. The tears of refugees in Kisenyi (a slum area in Kampala) being denied food was broadcast in the media did not even attract much attention.
It is on this conspiracy of silence that COVID-19 challenges the proclaimed Uganda hospitality. Uganda has been praised for it's progressive open door policy and even having the "best refugee policy in the world." In just two months all these lies have vanished and Uganda's refugees remains with nothing but empty promises.
All our eyes at first were turned towards the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR Uganda) which many people believe works for the welfare of refugees. This quickly became rubbish. The UNHCR Uganda has recently been confronted with scandals surrounding refugees’ issues. There is nothing much we can expect from this institution working in the land of the said “mafia.” It is a waste of time to expect much from UNHCR Uganda. This April 2020 alone we saw UNHCR in panic and as usual claiming to look for urgent funds to support refugees. Even though there are 1.4 million refugees in Uganda, the UNHCR claims responsibility of only 800,000 refugees in camps. The rest live in urban areas which UNHCR rejects responsibility to extend services to. Surprisingly these 600,000 refugees are used to lobbying for their own funding.
This is how the "mafia" operates. Unfortunately we do not hear much about investigations into such scandals and where does the money end from. The Chairperson of the Task Force in Uganda in charge of food distribution is actually the Minister in Charge of Refugees, and all along he has been very silent on the issue of extending food to refugees. His Gospel of “I love refugees so much” is being tempted and only left to the surface. It has taken UNHCR two months since the end of February up to now to deliberate about food to refugees in urban areas. Up to now that food has not yet reached refugees. Just food for around 80,000 people takes them two months. This is the UNHCR that sings “we care so much for refugees, we offer protection to our people of concern." COVID-19 seems to indicate that this was not true, it was just propaganda.
In order to justify how refugee funding is swindled we witnessed the creation of “fake policies.” The most notorious is “ReHoP” or "Refugees and Host Communities Programs" in which out of 100% interventions to refugees, 30% of these interventions was going to host communities in the name of peace and harmony living between refugees and host communities, but during COVID-19 this policy is challenged because it does not do the same as envisioned by ReHoP.
But on top of these where are the donors?
So far we have only heard that the USA gave $1.3 million to refugees in Uganda through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That money was not specified if it was for UNHCR administration or for refugees.
Where are all those other hundreds or organizations claiming to support refugees?
Where are those so called "experts" claiming to save poor Africans?
Where are those millions of dollars of program implementations?
Where is the Uganda Civil Society?
Where are the Uganda Religious Leaders?
Where are Human Rights Defenders in Uganda?
Where is the media? We observed some journalists have struggled. The visibility of refugees in Uganda in the media remains sporadic.
The UNHCR and OPM who for long preached that refugees cannot survive on their own here in Uganda should now learn a lesson that they are not much needed?. Pretending to help refugees through UNHCR or the Government of Uganda is a waste of resources we have all seen that.
Only small actions driven by refugees at the community level seem to be effectives and address the challenges of refugees in Uganda. This is where we should put our money. This is where efforts should more made. An effective change in refugee humanitarian support like the case of Uganda and many other part of Africa localization of funds is strongly needed.
Community-led organizations, CBOs and local churches in Uganda like:
YARID (www.yarid.org), CCRC-Congolese Refugee Community in Uganda, Hope for Children and Women Victims of Violence, Wakati Foundation, Human Right Defenders, Solidarity Network, and Refugee Now Kampala, among others are the ones on the front line helping refugees and host communities without enough funds allocated to this pandemic. If you are a donor, researcher, journalist, volunteer, intern etc. and would like to understand more about refugee's plight in Uganda you should start at the grassroots.
About the Author:
Kulihoshi Musika Pecos is a human rights defender in Uganda and Executive Director of Foundation PPPDR. His organization and his work is focused on refugee's rights as well as human rights defense. He has contributed to numerous petitions on refugee issues in Uganda and has been outspoken about the plight of refuges in Uganda where he himself has been living for more than 17 years.