The legal framework for addressing the refuge problem in Uganda: Strengths and weaknesses
Kavuma, Steven B. K.
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This study analysed how the refugee legal regime in Uganda was addressing the recurrent refugee problem. Refugees are a desperate and vulnerable category of people, who will have been forced by threats of human execution or natural disasters to flee their countries of origin for safety. This act immediately renders them stateless and defenceless, with neither rights nor wherewithal. They turn into a problem to the host community where they had rushed in uninvited, unplanned for and unbudgeted for. This compels the host community to apportion resources for their survival and wellbeing. Uganda, formerly a net exporter of refugees from 1971 to 1986 became a net recipient of refugees after the National Resistance Movement came to power in 1986. To-date, it has over 17 refugee settlements in eight refugee-hosting districts. The main concern of this study therefore was that if Uganda had acceded to the 1951 Geneva Convention and other international and regional conventions on refugees and legislated refugee laws, how were these laws operationalized to address the refugee problem, and how was their performance amidst the unending refugee phenomenon? What were the attributes and weaknesses of the refugee legal regime in handling the refugee issues and how could they be ameliorated to ensure better service delivery? The study’s periodic scope was from 2004 to 2014, when there was rampant instability in the neighbouring countries that forced massive migrations to Uganda. It adopted a cross-sectional study design and used qualitative approach. It selected three refugee hosting districts out of the eight and sampled one refugee settlement from each of them. It zeroed on a sample of 153 respondents using multi-stage sampling. Sixty of these were refugees, twenty five were state functionaries and 48 were citizens. These were studied using interviews, focus group discussions and observation methods. It also carried out documentary review of existing laws and secondary sources on the refugee question. The study found that the legal framework was sufficient and successful in addressing the refugee problem with haste despite their incessant influx. The Refugees’ legal framework had filled the lacuna between the international and regional conventions and the ever changing local conditions. The operationalization of the principles of non-refoulement, non-discrimination and naturalization had facilitated humane treatment of the refugees, maintained an open door policy for the incoming ones, facilitated their integration into the host communities and permitted them to engage in various economic and commercial activities. It was also expediting voluntary repatriation of refugees. The study documented some of its spinoffs, highlighted the different weaknesses of the refugee laws and it proposed how they could be improved. These revolved around finance, capacity-building, legal awareness, human and food security, free mobility of refugees to the developed countries and comprehensive formulation of solutions for eradicating the conditions which continue to reproduce refugees.