World Refugee Day: the displacement of 1% of Humanity



By Joel Boutroue Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Uganda

Today, 20 June 2020, is World Refugee Day. This day, every year is dedicated to honoring the 79.5 million children, women and men forced to leave their homes and countries due to conflict or persecution.

Uganda alone hosts 1.4 million refugees and the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and among the top three globally.

This year, however, we are in an unprecedented worldwide pandemic that requires all of us to think proactively in minimizing its effects. The Covid-19 crisis has already significantly impacted our operation, forcing us to rapidly adjust the way we work.

We are sparing no effort to help and protect refugees the best we can under these difficult circumstances and supporting the host communities.

Preservation of life, regardless of status or location, is the common humanitarian imperative and we remain steadfast in our efforts.

To this end, UNHCR has stayed and delivered to ensure that the people we serve are included in national and district response plans and are properly informed, while we supplement the authorities’ preparedness and response efforts wherever needed. We are all in this together.

With every crisis there is an opportunity. After visiting all refugee settlements across Uganda in the last month, three opportunities became clear.

First, the power of community structures as first responders is at its best when activated. At the same time, all UNHCR staff have stayed and continue to deliver and support these efforts.

On the ground, the teams jointly distribute soap and basic food assistance to those in need, in innovative and safe ways. I saw the refugee welfare leadership structures support these efforts.

The village health teams and all health workers have worked around the clock to build quarantine centers in record time while allaying the natural fears of their communities.

Children remain out of schools and the myriads of interruptions to the daily routines have caused concern with increased reports of sexual and gender-based violence.

The ultimate solution to these challenges is to fortify and strengthen the existing community structures: the district local governments, the refugee structures, and the community.

They are the foundation of our response in this crisis and support of their leadership by the international community is now more critical than ever before.

No one can predict the future impact of Covid-19, but we can prepare and ensure that local leadership structures (DLGs, Local and national NGOs, the

Ugandan Red Cross, the refugee structures) are solidly in place should future movement restrictions or access to these areas be further restricted in these uncertain times.

Second, while other countries are trying to organize themselves under a common framework, Uganda already has one. Uganda’s strong leadership to implement the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) means that we already have the coordination platforms and active engagement of all the stakeholders in the refugee response.

Now is the time to accelerate the positive shift towards greater inclusion into national and local service delivery envisaged under CRRF. Let’s jointly accelerate the transition of the well-laid plans in health, education, water, and the environment in the mostly rural refugee-hosting districts.

I have been approached by many development actors who ask about how to support refugees. The answer is counter-intuitive: increase support to the districts to deliver national services to the entire population, including refugees.

Third, Uganda has the world’s attention. Your tradition of welcome, your humanity, and the impulse of each and every Ugandan consistently demonstrates hospitality when your neighbor is in need making the refugee management model of Uganda one of the most progressive on the planet.

The international community, notably through the World Bank and other key development actors have offered additional resources.

 World Bank resources in refugee-hosting districts exist thanks to the refugee presence, confirming the President’s vision that refugees can be actors of development, not only a burden.
More international solidarity (and resources) are required now. Humanitarian funding alone isn’t enough and is facing serious financial constraints that may jeopardize the beautiful progress made up to date.

Uganda has forged a unique path forward for longer-term development goals where refugees are not left behind. In doing so, there are clear and costed plans offering entry points for development actors which never existed before.

Despite the sacrifice in hosting refugees, now is not the time to give up on your ideas and progress.

Stay the course. Refugees are counting on this opportunity to rebuild their lives and contributing to the local economy and social and cultural life. The world is counting on it.

I never tire of praising and praying for the Government of Uganda and the Ugandan people for their generosity and tradition of welcome for their selfless efforts in hosting their neighbors. Today, we celebrate you and the refugees.

The writer is the UNHCR representative in Uganda.


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