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The refugee economy generates resources for locals in Uganda

October 27, 2021 at 9:27 am

A refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Jerome Mugisa who fled 10 years ago poses during an interview at Kyangwali Refugee Settlement in Kyangwali, western Uganda, on December 10, 2018 [ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP via Getty Images]

Despite possessing meagre resources, the landlocked East African country of Uganda hosts 1.5 million refugees from across Africa, including South Sudan, Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda, Eritrea, and Sudan. So far, this has not caused much resentment among local people.

In fact, according to Ugandan officials, government policy makes it mandatory for aid agencies to spend 30 per cent of funds in the areas adjacent to refugee camps; this has helped to keep xenophobic tendencies in check. Elderly Zachary Baguma, for example, told Anadolu Agency that those living near a refugee camp in Kyegegwa have benefited from the presence of refugees.

“We have benefited from the infrastructure that has been put in place because of the refugee camp in our area,” Baguma explained. “We have good roads, schools and hospitals now.”

Located about 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the capital Kampala, Kyegegwa hosts refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. Dennis Mwinsa, 29, is a Congolese refugee who now sells watches, necklaces, and women’s bags. Kyegegwa has become home for him.

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“I live a more comfortable life here than I used to live in the jungles of Congo where rebels and militiamen attack villages at will,” he told Anadolu. “In the camp, we get all the basic needs. We have hospitals, schools, and a police station. They also give us money to buy food.”

In the past, said Mwinsa, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was providing them with food, but now they get cash. After saving some of the money given monthly to buy food, he was able to start his own business.

The director of Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID), Fidele Kabene, pointed out that each refugee gets 70,000 Ugandan shillings ($20) every month from the UN agency to buy food. Burundian refugee William Wimana uses that money to buy food and some basic requirements for his family of five. “We get 350,000 Ugandan shillings ($98) and we budget carefully so that the money takes us through the month,” he said.

Various UN agencies spent $160.17 million on refugees in Uganda last year. To this must be added donations from countries to help homeless people. Japan donated $9.8 million in April this year, Sweden gave $1.2 million in July, while Germany has contributed $4.4 million.

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David Musenze, an economist in Kampala, said that although these funds are meant for refugees, they do circulate to keep the local economy afloat. “Many people who live near the refugee camps benefit because the refugees buy most of what they need from them.” This was confirmed by Ambrose Akaga, an elected member of western Kikuube District Council. “The money paid to refugees to buy food ultimately circulates locally and ends up in the hands of local people, who sell food and other basic items.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said recently that he himself lived as a refugee in the past, so his country welcomes those who have been forced to leave their homes. The latest to arrive came from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban taking control in August.

Turkey tops the list of the world’s countries hosting refugees, with 3.7 million people. It is followed by Colombia with 1.7 million; Uganda is third with 1.5 million.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.