Although the movement of asylum seekers and refugees to the industrialized world captures much attention, the reality is that 85 percent are hosted in developing countries – which are taking on a growing share of the world’s humanitarian burden.
Uganda, with an annual per capita income of U.S. $666, is home to more refugees than any other country in Africa and has the third-largest refugee population of any nation, after Turkey and Pakistan. More than one million of its estimated 1.5 million refugees have arrived within the past two years, with hundreds more arriving daily. With few resources to offer to so many displaced people, Uganda represents a case study for generous refugee-hosting policies in otherwise challenging conditions.
The refugee population in Uganda is a product of its tumultuous neighborhood – with civil war in South Sudan and ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) forcing the flight of hundreds of thousands in recent years. But it is also the result of policies that are often touted as some of the most generous in the world. Praised by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, the “Uganda model” permits refugees to work, cultivate land, and move around freely – rights rarely granted to that extent in other countries of first asylum, where the arrivals are typically viewed as competition for jobs and scarce resources. Refugees also have access to government-provided health care and primary education.
Still, Uganda’s refugee response is far from perfect, and many pressure points on the system risk giving way to deep fractures, as this article explores. Though the policy landscape itself is uncommonly generous, conditions for many refugees remain grim, marked by inadequate resources, poor water and sanitation conditions, and a shortage of food amid cuts to humanitarian nutrition programs and shortfalls in international donor support. The international community and other refugee-hosting countries are watching closely to see if Uganda’s unparalleled refugee-hosting model can hold itself together.