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NGOs urge donors to increase refugee funding as verification shows Uganda tops Africa refugee burden

Verification exercise confirms Uganda hosts Africa’s largest refugee population, but funding fails to match as 19 NGOs call on international donors to share responsibility and increase funding

RIGHTS | Uganda is host to at least 1.1 million refugees, by far the largest number in Africa and the third largest worldwide, a major biometric verification processes as confirmed.

The countrywide verification exercise, under the auspices of the Office of the Prime Minister in partnership with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), started on March 1 was completed on October 24.

In June, the Ugandan government was hit hard in the face when an investigation revealed that unscrupulous officials in OPM had distorted and inflated refugee figures to exploit the situation and fleece foreign aid budgets.

The revelation had compelled UNHCR to order a biometric verification exercise, whose results confirmed existence of at least 300,000 ‘ghost’ refugees in the system.

The biometric verification, the biggest UNHCR has ever taken to account for refugee numbers, has now confirmed that all other scandals not withstanding, Uganda is still host to the largest refugee numbers on the continent.

The biometric exercise saw 1,091,024 asylum-seekers and refugees verified. This represents 75.5% of the estimated target of 1.4 million registered persons as captured by the report that cited ‘ghost’ beneficiaries.

Since March 2018, the government of Uganda and UNHCR have embarked on a biometric verification exercise aimed at validating and updating the total number of refugees in Uganda.

NGOs reiterate call for funding

With the scale of the crisis now confirmed, the international community should ensure the response is appropriately funded, a group of 19 non-government organisations have said.

Officials say that, as the end of the year approaches, the 2018 response plan has received just 42% of the required funds.

“The verification process has been essential to confirm numbers, which are lower than previously reported, and must be the start of a renewed long-term commitment to provide an adequate and well targeted response to the largely unmet needs of refugees and their host communities,” the NGOs said in a joint statement.

“We look forward to a consolidated and unified refugee database that will support protection, identity management, well-targeted provision of assistance, and awareness of accurate population statistics. All of this is necessary to ensure better support, service delivery and durable solutions for refugees and their host communities in Uganda.”

In 2017, UN Secretary-General António Guterres headlined a cast of distinguished officials from agencies and diplomatic corps that met for UN Refugees Summit in Kampala that sought to raise at least $2 billion (Shs7 trillion) to fund relief operations.

The solidarity summit raised over Shs1.2 trillion in cash and kind but stakeholders say the refugee burden continues to outweigh efforts on the ground.

“Uganda’s refugee policy is one of the most progressive in the world and the country has continued to welcome refugees at a time when many countries are shutting their doors,” the group of NGOs that include Action Against Hunger and Relief Agency (ADRA) said.

“The support from donors so far is welcome and has helped save lives and provide services; but is falling far short of what is needed.”

World reminded on responsibility

The partner organisations said reminded the international community to not keep its commitments made in the 2016 New York Declaration to share the responsibility and provide enough funding.

“We recognise and echo donor calls for accountability and are committed to measures that prevent and combat all types of wrongful conduct, including fraud, corruption and Sexual Exploitation and Abuse,” the NGOs said.

“However, continued failure to provide funding will lead to a further decrease in assistance for refugees, more than 60% of whom are children, and host communities.”

They said at such a time as when the international community is setting out a new way of working and sharing refugee responsibility, “Uganda is the test case which cannot be allowed to fail.”

The statement, signed by Action Against Hunger, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), BRAC, CARE, and Catholic Relief Services, urged international community to recognise the verification exercise as the first step in committing to ensure a fully comprehensive and effective response to the refugee influx in Uganda.

They also called for a follow up on outstanding actions under the Joint Action Plan, ensuring that investigations of allegations of wrongful conduct are concluded and reported against.

The NGOs said the world must commit to upholding the quality of asylum for refugees by meeting their lifesaving needs through predictable multi-year funding and investment in infrastructure in order to achieve.

Other NGOs that signed the statement include Danish Refugee Council, Finn Church Aid, Finnish Refugee Council, Food for the Hungry, and Humanity & Inclusion.

Others are Mercy Corps, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tutapona, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), War Child Holland, World Vision, ZOA.

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