Is The Influx Of Refugees In Uganda A Liability Or An Asset To Host Communities

Stakeholders in West Nile Region have said the high refugee concentrations in the area is more of a liability than an asset because it compounds the already prevailing economic, environmental, social and, at times, political difficulties in West Nile.

Is The Influx Of Refugees In Uganda A Liability Or An Asset To Host Communities
Some of the South Sudanese refugee struggle for water at Afoji Market on the day of arrival in Uganda [Photo credit| SCOVIN]

By Paul Night

MOYO, 11 January 2018 [Gurtong]-Williams Dradiga, an Environmentalist said UNHCR and the international community has been well aware of the severe impact that large scale refugee populations can have on the social, economic and political life of host developing community.

“The presence of refugees, and demands on the already severely strained economy, services and infrastructure add to the extreme hardship affecting the local populations. In many instances, refugees become an added impediment to, or risk jeopardizing, the development efforts of the host community and their negative aspects may be felt long after a refugee problem is solved. For example, the damage to environment is a process and does not end with the repatriation of refugees”, Dradiga said.

 The Economic Impact, from the moment of arrival, refugees compete with the locals for scarce resources such as land, water, housing, food and medical services. Over time, their presence leads to more substantial demands on natural resources, education and health facilities, energy, transportation, social services and employment.

“They may cause inflationary pressures on prices and depress wages. In West Nile, refugees have significantly altered the flow of goods and services within the society as a whole and their presence may have implications for the host community’s balance of payment and undermine structural adjustment initiatives.” Said Dradiga.

Noting that one example of market disturbances would be the need to rent accommodation for office and residential purposes, not just for expatriates, but also for locally engaged staff, in response to a refugee situation.

“Increased construction activity results, but this is usually accompanied by increases in rent, benefiting those who are property owners, but adversely affecting the poor and those on fixed incomes, such as government officers, while also generating inflationary effects. Likewise, increased demand for food and other commodities has led to price rises in the market which will stimulate local economic activity, although, again, not benefiting the poorest.”

Ernest Nyago, the District Community Development officer IN Moyo district local government said that there is also a strain on the local administration. 

“Authorities in West Nile have diverted considerable resources and manpower from the pressing demands of their own development to the urgent task of keeping refugees alive, alleviating their sufferings and ensuring the security of the whole community and While most the people of West Nile generally have demonstrated a willingness to bear many of these costs, they are understandably reluctant to pay, as a price for giving asylum, the cost of additional infrastructure that may be needed to accommodate refugees”, Nyago narrates. 

 West Nile expects, at the very least, that the international community will help compensate for the costs incurred in providing asylum for the refugees. “No community of a low income country is prepared to contract loans or reallocate its previous development funds to programs designed for, or required because of, large numbers of refugees on their land”, he said.

Emilienne Bandaru, a social worker with Danish Refugees Council (DRC) said the economic impact of refugees on host areas, however, is not necessarily negative. “An economic stimulus may be generated by the presence of refugees and can lead to the opening and development of the host regions”, she said.

She noted that this stimulus takes place, inter alia, through the local hire of human resources, purchase of food, non-food items, shelter materials by agencies supplying relief items, disbursements made by aid workers, the assets brought by refugees themselves, as well as employment and income accrued to local population, directly or indirectly, through assistance projects for refugee areas.

“The presence of refugees also contributes to the creation of employment benefiting the local population, directly or indirectly”, She said.

Bandaru added that relevant line departments involved in refugee work as counterparts to UNHCR, both at central and local levels, also benefit from UNHCR assistance aimed at strengthening their coping and management capacities.

“Such assistance may include equipment supply, capacity building and related training components. These are yet to be critically studied in West Nile”, she said.

 Williams Anyama, the LCV Chairman Moyo district local government said the presence of refugees as a focus of attention can also attract development agencies to the host areas.

“While infrastructure is developed in the initial stage primarily to facilitate the work of host governments, UNHCR and its implementing partners in the refugee affected regions, it can also serve as a catalyst to ‘open up’ the host region to development efforts that would otherwise never reach these ‘marginal’ areas.”

 While it is recognized that there may be some “positive” aspects to the impact of refugee influx on the economic life of a host country, the large-scale presence of refugees invariably constitutes a heavy burden for receiving countries.


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