Friday, March 03, 2017

Refugees - A different reception

 300,000 more refugees from South Sudan are expected to arrive in Uganda in 2017, according to UNHCR, which is now aleay totalling 762,672 this year. Can we expect the same sort of welcome that Europe offers refugees? After all, Uganda is much poorer than the wealthy EU and its citizens struggle themselves for a decent life so could we blame the local Ugandans if they resented the newcomers?

However, that is not what has been happening.

Simon Modi, 17, has just crossed into northern Uganda from South Sudan and within a few hours will be taken to Bidi Bidi, one of world’s largest refugee settlements. Within 24 hours, he and his relatives will be settled on a half-acre plot with the tools to farm and build a home. Large swathes of land has been made available to refugees. Refugees can move freely, work and own a business.

“Uganda is incredibly switched on,” says Musarait Kashmiri from African Initiatives for Relief and Development.

“Uganda is a showcase,” says Charlie Yaxley of the UN high commissioner for refugees.

Most refugees are ready to farm. Helena Kujang, who “followed the footsteps of citizens” to safety, said, “We are going to grow our own food. All the seeds that are available, we will plant.”

Uganda’s commissioner for refugees, David Kazungu, says “Ugandans have been in exile and know what it means, and refugees are important for social and economic transformation.”

A 2016 study by University of California Davis and the UN World Food Programme found that “refugees’ purchases benefit local and national economies, and economic benefits exceed the amount of donated aid”. 
“In many countries such an influx would have led to a crisis,” says the UNHCR senior field coordinator,  Jens Hesemann , “Here it’s working.”

 A small cotton farmer extols the change. “The refugees are an opportunity,” says Hamza Yassin, 23. “Before they came, this place was empty. But they’ve created a marketplace. We can now buy things close by.”

“Providing land to refugees allows them to immediately start settling, as no one knows how long they will have to stay,” says Yann Libessart of Médecins Sans Frontières. “Markets will expand, and the distinction between a South Sudanese refugee settlement and a Ugandan village eventually blur. This could give an economic boost.”

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