South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.

Uganda: Urgent Action Needed to Address Refugee Response Funding Gap

Joint statement by 25 international organizations working in Uganda

Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa and is among the top refugee hosting countries worldwide. Every day, more people, mostly women and children, continue to arrive here in search of safety. The Government of Uganda has shown tremendous generosity in opening its doors to so many vulnerable refugees and granting them access to land and services, freedom of movement, and the right to work. However, the international community has not stepped up and shared this responsibility, despite commitments made in the 2016 New York Declaration and the subsequent Global Compact for Refugees. Halfway through the year, Uganda’s 2018 integrated refugee response plan is facing a critical shortfall and is only 6 percent funded. Even when funding is available, it is mostly short-term for 3-6 months and unsuitable for the chronic long-term needs. 

Our organizations, working to support Uganda’s comprehensive response, see the impact of this funding gap every day. The ongoing influx means services are seriously overstretched. Many refugees have no access to vital primary healthcare, and health centers are short of beds, medicine, and staff. Access to water in some areas is just 60 percent of the recommended minimum standards, meaning refugees are going without adequate sanitation and safe water. Some refugees have to sleep overnight at tap stands in order to get water. This is putting lives at risk, as evidenced by the recent cholera outbreak in southwest Uganda which killed at least 49 people. After great effort, it has only recently been brought under control but could flare up again at any moment.

Having to walk several miles to access services means women and children are exposed to numerous risks. There are widespread reports of sexual violence against young children and women in and around settlements, yet the availability and quality of services is inadequate, which is also leading to under-reporting by survivors. In Kyangwali, just 1 percent of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors are receiving health services. In addition, thousands of unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and without increased investment in protection services their vulnerability will only increase. Many new arrivals show signs of severe psychological distress and trauma after their experiences, yet mental health and psychosocial support services are scarce. 

Around 300,000 refugee children in Uganda, some 59 percent remain out of education. Dozens of school structures which were built to be temporary are now on the verge of collapse, and there are no funds for repairs. Newly-built learning centers for new arrivals remain closed as there are no funds to open them. Meanwhile many teachers’ salaries will soon run out, before the most critical time of the school year when exams must be sat. Girls are dropping out of school or failing to enroll, and as a result some are reverting to transactional sex or are married off early and often forcefully by their caregivers to make ends meet. 

Some settlements, such as Kyaka II and Kyangwali, have doubled in size in recent months and the land and natural resources available for new refugees are rapidly shrinking, increasing the risk of inter-personal conflict within the settlements. In order to host new arrivals, existing refugees are being required to give away land they have depended on for cultivation but have not been provided with alternatives to compensate them for the loss of food or income. Greater investment in diverse, dignified and durable livelihood options is needed if new refugees are to become self-reliant. 

Given these huge needs and the context of an already dramatically underfunded refugee response, we are extremely concerned by the allegations of fraud and corruption and fully support the donor community’s demands for greater accountability. In response to these allegations, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) with the Government of Uganda launched in February the largest biometric refugee verification exercise worldwide. The exercise is now well underway, alongside implementation of other concrete steps, such as independent monitoring and improved reporting and referral systems, to ensure more transparent management of funds and aid in kind.

While verification goes on, it is clear the needs remain enormous and urgent. Refugees and their host communities cannot wait for assistance any longer. We urge the donor community to not only continue but immediately step up its contribution to the refugee response, to reflect the level of need. 

We are extremely concerned that the funding gap is not only preventing effective service delivery and leading to a deterioration in welfare of existing refugees but is also leaving Uganda seriously under-prepared for a major new influx. More than 110,000 new refugees have already arrived in Uganda so far this year, at an average rate of 767 people every day. The lack of funding and short-term nature of available funds means the humanitarian community was unable to prepare for this influx. Another quarter of a million are expected by the end of the year, but any further escalations of violence or deterioration in food security in South Sudan or DRC could send this number spiraling. This time, donors must invest to ensure Uganda is better prepared to manage this ever-increasing number of refugees.

NGOs are already contributing significant financial and human resources, but we can only contribute so much. We urge donors to ensure that – while progress on the Joint Accountability Framework is monitored – the Refugee Response Plan is funded to reflect the scale of needs, and that, in the light and spirit of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, longer-term multi-year predictable funding is provided. 

Signed by 25 international organizations: 
Action Against Hunger
Catholic Relief Services
Deutsch Welt Hunger
Finnish Refugee Council
Humanity and Inclusion
International Justice Mission
International Refugee Committee
Mercy Corps
Norweigan Refugee Council
Plan International
Save the Children
War Child Holland
World Vision

Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For more than 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 21 million people in 2018 alone.