Why refugees should be welcomed as part of society

Image shows why refugees should be welcomed as part of societies
Refugee youth taking part in a teambuilding exercise at school in Bidibidi refugee settlement. Photo: Erik Nyström

Uganda is said to have the most welcoming refugee policy in the world and continues to host a large number of refugees from its neighbouring countries.

After being registered at the border, refugees have the right to receive education, healthcare, work and other services. Only the right to vote in national elections is excluded.

This policy is usually not the case in other countries, and that is one reason why refugees flee into Uganda. War, violence, economic crisis and political instability, especially in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, cause people to leave their home country, and Uganda receives the largest portion.

Currently, we host some 1,1 million refugees, one of the largest refugee populations in the world.

One of the reasons I believe we Ugandans are fully accepting and welcoming towards refugees is because of shared cultures. Some ethnic groups from South Sudan live on both sides of the border and have for decades had that connection with hardly any cultural differences.

Moreover, we generally consider this open-door policy a win for all parties. Ugandans and refugees both benefit from lifesaving solutions. Also, turning our backs to refugees can be fatal.

Through our friendly policies towards refugees, they are able to get an education, health and even employment within Ugandan host communities. Eventually, they become productive members of society. This contributes to the whole country’s development.

Refugees are allocated a small piece of land to settle, which encourages self-reliance and promotes their coexistence and integration. Because they are members of society, they purchase goods and services in the local markets and different businesses.

Many other countries would also want to be in the position to host refugees but might lack the resource pull and also assistance from international and local organisations. Uganda is fortunate enough to have different players working together with the government to support refugees.

There are still many challenges in hosting such a large number, for instance, funding gaps in health, education, water and security. These issues can naturally also cause tensions between the host communities and refugees. But we choose to do our best to solve this rather than looking away.

The government and humanitarian organisations consistently pair appeals to the international community to provide Uganda with adequate resources to continue working with refugees.

Despite these challenges, Uganda has never looked at refugees as a burden. We continue accepting, looking out and protecting them because it is the morally right thing to do.

Sharon Shaba works as Communications Officer for Finn Church Aid in Uganda.