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The Refugee Response in Uganda

By USCRI May 9, 2024

Uganda is Africa’s largest refugee-hosting country with more than 1.5 million refugees residing within its borders. The East African nation deploys one of the most progressive policy responses to cross-border displacement on the continent. But this response faces headwinds—from declines in international support to the rise of climate-related displacement.

This brief provides an overview of Uganda’s refugee response. It discusses the history of cross-border displacement into Uganda and the so-called “Uganda model” that emerged from this historical context. It also discusses key challenges and topics for the future success of the model, including the gap in funding, the threat of climate change, and the role of refugee-led organizations.

 

Historical Context of Cross-Border Displacement into Uganda

 

Uganda has hosted refugees and asylum seekers since before its independence from the United Kingdom in 1962. In the early 1940s, Uganda hosted several thousand Polish refugees who fled Europe during World War II. After an uprising against Rwanda’s Tutsi monarchy in 1959, tens of thousands of Tutsis fled into Uganda. Violent pogroms in Rwanda forced even more Tutsis to Uganda in the 1960s. Meanwhile, growing numbers of Sudanese fleeing violence in southern Sudan—also newly independent from the British— were confined to camps in northern Uganda.

Displacement trends reversed in the 1970s and early 1980s as Uganda became a refugee- generating country amid internal instability. By 1985, refugees and internally displaced persons made up seven percent of the country’s population. Beginning in the late 1980s, an insurgency by the non-state armed group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, caused further displacement in northern Uganda.

Instability and conflict, much of it interwoven in the broader Great Lakes region, continued to drive displacement in and around Uganda, even as Uganda became relatively more stable. The 1994 Rwandan genocide once more resulted in mass displacement north into Uganda, from which the Rwandan Patriotic Front had originated. A decades-long civil war between Sudan’s government and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army in southern Sudan resulted in recurring cycles of cross-border displacement south into Uganda. The First and Second Congolese Wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s killed and displaced millions across the Great Lakes region, including to the east into Uganda.

Over the last decade, Uganda has seen large-scale refugee influxes by individuals arriving from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and newly independent South Sudan. In South Sudan, a 2013 civil war and the 2016 collapse of a peace agreement drove hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese into Uganda. About 57 percent of refugees in Uganda today are South Sudanese who primarily reside in Uganda’s north. Another 32 percent of refugees are from the DRC, and they mostly live in Uganda’s south. Other refugee populations from Somalia, Burundi, Sudan, and Rwanda also live in Uganda today.

 

Click here to Read the Full Brief.

 

USCRI, founded in 1911, is a non-governmental, not-for-profit international organization committed to working on behalf of refugees and immigrants and their transition to a dignified life.

For inquiries, please contact: [email protected]


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