UGANDA: RWANDAN REFUGEES SURVIVED OF COVID-19 AND ELECTIONS

By Arnold Gakuba

Introduction

Rwandan refugees have spent a year period since March 2020 surviving from double tensions in Uganda: Covid-19 and political elections. During Covid-19 and elections periods, the life of Rwanda refugees in Uganda was in a critical condition. This article highlights the lives of Rwandan refugees in Uganda within this socio-economic and political hardship in the country. 

The UNHCR official statistics shows that by 31st January 2021, the registered Rwandan refugees in Uganda were 17,956 (this number is far from the reality of Rwandan refugees living in Uganda legally or illegally). Rwandan refugees in Uganda live especially in Oruchinga, Nakivale and Kyaka II Refugee Settlements and Kampala City. We note that a big number of Rwandan refugees is concentrated in urban areas particularly Kampala where they could practice small businesses to survive. 

Urban refugees

In urban areas, Rwandan refugees suffered from hunger as they do not get any assistance from UNHCR. The information collected from Rwandan refugees in Kampala City revealed that during since May 2020 UNHCR and other organizations such as NRC made a tentative of assisting urban refugees by distributing money to help them survive Covi-19 pandemic disease. However, this assistance reached to a very few number of Rwandan refugees up to date. Some are still on the pending list and others were told that they received while they didn’t. We remind that this assistance was done through mobile money transfer. Therefore, some are being told that the assistance (money) dedicated to them was sent while the beneficiary had never received any amount on his/her mobile money account. 

Most of Rwandan urban refugees lived of small economic activities prior to Covid-19 and elections. A big number of Rwandan refugees –young girls, women, men and young boys-are hawkers selling clothes, shoes, home utensils, etc.  in Kampala City and its suburbs to survive.  Though, these economic activities were affected by Covid-19 and political instability. Moving around Kampala, hawking and other small businesses have been prohibited for a long period and Urban Rwandan refugees used their financial capital and now live in miserable conditions. This shows social and economic insecurity surrounding Rwandan refugees in urban settings in Uganda especially in Kampala and its suburbs. 

Refugee settlements

The problem of hunger among Rwandan refugees in Refugee settlements in Uganda tripled its severity during this one year period of Covid-19 and political elections where there is regulation of movement to protect people from Covid-19. We remind our readers that Rwandan refugees in settlements had three major sources of income: domestic farming, small businesses and assistance from UNHCR. During Covid-19 period the assistance provided by UNHCR reduced from 31,000Uugx to 19,000Ugx per person per month to satisfy all necessities of an individual including food, clothing, medication, recreation, etc for the whole period of one month. 

Prior to Covid-19, the small plots which were distributed to Rwandan refugees in settlements in Uganda were redistributed to news refugees from RDC especially in Kyaka II Refugee Settlement which impacted on their domestic farming by reducing households’ food production. Therefore, most of families live in food insecurity. During Covid-19 period, almost all income generating activities such as farming and business also collapsed in refugee settlements due to movement restrictions. Some refugees died of hunger especially vulnerable persons such orphans, elders and people living with chronic diseases such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, pressure and so on.  

We have interviewed Rwandan refugees living in Kyaka II, Nakivale, Kyangwali and Kiryandongo refugee settlements to get a clear picture of the consequences of Covid-19 and elections towards Rwandan refugees in Uganda. Interviewees revealed to the reporter that the life of Rwandan refugees is so hard these days: no food, no medications, no education for children, no jobs, etc”. An interviewee from Nakivale refugee settlement declared to the reporter that a big number of young girls (12-18 old years) who mostly were studying in primary schools and O’ Level of secondary schools got married during this Covid-19 period as an alternative solution to their redundancy and economic hardship of their parents. Another big number of young girls became sex workers to seek for survival. Hence, the future of the young generation of Rwandan refugees in Uganda becomes uncertain. 

It is therefore recommended that 

  • the International community through UNHCR and other international human rights actors that all urban refugees and refugees in settlements obtain the basic necessities for their better and sustainable life;
  • the NGO (international and local) working with refugees provide minimum services needed for survival so that they don’t perish;
  • the assistance given to refugees in settlements (food or money) should be increased to help them surviving the current socio-economic crisis;
  • As urban refugees have used all their capital during inactive period of Covid-19 and elections, UNHCR and other organizations intervening for refugees should provide initial capital to refugees who live of small businesses in urban areas in Uganda.

Conclusion

This article describes the current socio-economic situation of Rwandan refugees in Uganda either in urban areas or in living in refugee settlements. The major socio-economic problems facing Rwandan refugees in Uganda these days were worsened by Covid-19 and political elections.  All in all, Uganda has favorable political ground to refugees which ranked the country on the first position to host many refugees in Africa. 

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