SINCE the flare-up in fighting in South Sudan in December, and the record flight of refugees from a conflict that has killed over 300,000 people and displaced nearly 3 million, there have been several reports of Uganda’s “unique and generous refugee policies”.
The most recent crisis can be traced to December 2013, when fighting broke out in a power tug of war between President Salva Kiir and his then-deputy and now rebel chief Riek Machar, barely two years after South Sudan’s independence.
A shaky peace settlement that had led to the formation of a government of national unity in April, with the Machar returning to Juba as first vice president, unraveled quickly in July when Kiir’s forces attacked Machar’s guards.
Thousands of South Sudanese have returned to Uganda (and to Kenya and Ethiopia), where many of them had already lived for decades during the years of the rebellion in the south against oppression by the government in Khartoum in the north.
As of the beginning of the year, Uganda was home to more than 500,000 refugees according to UNHCR. Among the African countries, only Kenya and Ethiopia receive more refugees.
Over the past 50 years, Uganda has received close to eight million refugees, or 160,000 refugees every year.
In an article on the South Sudan refugee crisis, the Norwegian Refugee Council sums up what makes Uganda’s refugee policy different.
All those who flee to Uganda automatically receive refugee status. Here there are no typical refugee camps, but instead there are settlements where people can build houses and grow their own food.
For example, since hostilities broke out in South Sudan in the beginning of July, the number of settlements has increased from 16 to 19 in Adjumani district.
Today, there are as many refugees as local residents in the district.