Global Theme: Whoever. Wherever. Whenever. Everyone has the right to seek safety. Every 20 June, the world celebrates World Refugee Day to honor refugees worldwide for their strength and resilience. This year, the commemoration focuses on the right to seek safety. Every person has the right to seek safety – whoever they are – wherever they come from and wherever they are forced to flee. Uganda remains a generous country with a long history of over 60 years of hosting refugees. It currently hosts over 1.5 million refugees, making it a top African refugee-hosting country and among the top five countries worldwide. Every migrant is entitled to safe and dignified treatment like any other human being as they seek asylum. Today, world leaders and their nations have been reminded not to discriminate against migrants at borders. Borders should remain open to all people forced to flee their homes besides seeking asylum is a human right. The World Refugee Day campaign presents a reminder of the big challenges refugees face globally as they seek safety. Ensuring refugee safety is a pressing issue in refugee protection. More people are on the move than ever due to wars, climate change, etc. Every minute, 30 individuals around the globe are displaced. There is growing xenophobia, closure of borders and fear of asylum seekers in many countries, which has led to a tendency not to see refugees as victims of war but as perpetrators of insecurity. This kind of aggression has interception measures and higher barriers to indiscriminate detention, threatening refugee safety. Today, Uganda hosts refugees from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea. With the ongoing fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda has opened its borders to over 25,000 new arrivals through the Bunagana border. Through the Office of the Prime Minister, UNHCR and humanitarian partners, the government of Uganda manages transit centers for asylum seekers along the Uganda/the Democratic Republic of Congo border and is responding to the emergency. Despite struggling to sustain the refugee operations, Uganda continues to share its little resources with refugees. During the launch of the three-year Uganda Country Refugee Response Plan 2022/2025 (UCRRP) in Kampala, the Minister of Disaster Preparedness in the Office of Prime Minister revealed that Uganda needs 1.5 trillion annually to cater for refugees living in the country. Most people on the move are from poor countries; these countries cannot support Uganda to sustain the refugees. The host communities that welcome refugees are often struggling to survive themselves. However, the government of Uganda continues to establish safe access to all people forced to flee and integrate them within the settlements in the refugee-hosting districts. While Uganda continues to receive refugees and enable them to access the available services through government institutions like any other Ugandan, especially those services within their areas of residence or settlement, more must be done to support Uganda’s comprehensive policy on refugees. In 2018, world leaders adopted a new global compact at the United Nations: one on refugees and one on migration. Whereas the compact emphasized that refugees should be helped and treated with respect at every stage of migration, hosting countries are incapacitated to ensure refugees live dignified lives due to challenges in accessing the basic needs like food, shelter, medical care etc. The vulnerability of refugees is magnified when they have limited resources like food, medical care, financial resources, shelter for their families, poverty, security, fuel wood, access to safe, clean water, and their communities are major issues they need. Refugees within settlements face physical security challenges, and some live in constant fear due to inadequate protection within the settlements; this calls for amendment of the laws to better protect the refugees. There have been cases of kidnapping of refugees, trafficking of refugees, and disappearance of refugees. The Refugee Law Project’s 2001 paper on ‘Refugees and the Security Situation in Adjumani highlighted critical security threats refugees face. Victims of several war-related violence complain of meeting perpetrators within the settlements, and this causes people to live in constant fear within the settlement. More reinforcement should be doubled to address such issues that specific categories of migrants are appropriately settled for the safety and peace of all migrants. Notably, reported cases are properly investigated, and actions are taken. The government should consider high-profile asylum seekers and ex-combatants to help overcome their fears and protection needs. Break-down in the family network causes trauma and fear. This calls for prioritising family reunification to enhance the safety of individuals and their families. The family is considered to be the first unit for safety. Family reunification needs to prioritise separated families and facilitate reunions with known family members within the settlements. The national theme focuses on the right to seek safety, protection and conservation of the environment. UNHCR estimates that 20-25 million trees are cut down annually in and around refugee settlements. The urgent need for cooking fuel drives 90% of this deforestation. The refugees within settlements mostly are challenged with access to fuel. The resulting environmental problems threaten safe living conditions and livelihoods for refugees. This calls for empowering refugees and host communities on environmental protection and conservation measures. We appeal for more interventions and funding for reforestation and the promotion of clean cooking energy programs to conserve the environment and support vulnerable refugee situations. This will help revert the degradation of the environment in refugee-hosting districts. UNHCR reports that as the wood collection perimeter widens with deforestation, women and children travel long distances to collect wood, putting them at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Environmental degradation also heightens the risk of conflict between refugees and hosts. In addition, schools consume a lot of fuel wood, and alternative energy sources need to be established. The human waste within schools needs to be utilised to produce clean energy for fuel use by schools. Access to food within refugee families and reduced food and cash ratio threaten refugees' safety. World Health Organization states that food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked. A lack of safe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, which overburdens public health services, disrupts social and economic progress and detracts from the quality of life. The reductions by World Food Program on refugee food ratio and cash ratio coupled with the low income, unemployment, and poverty worsen the refugee situation at individual, family and community levels. The refugees should be supported with land and other alternative mechanisms for food production such that food security can be enhanced. Refugees need to be empowered with information such that they are not vulnerable and exploited as they seek alternatives for food production. What is RLP’s position on refugees and migrants about safety? Refugee Law Project programmes promote the safety and protection of refugees within Uganda. We have championed the promotion of understanding of refugee rights, their obligations and protection in Uganda. Basically, to broaden the understanding of refugee issues, safety and peaceful co-existence of the refugees with the host. We advocate for respect for the rights of refugees and other categories of migrants and non-discrimination against migrants.
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