By Sheila Depio

Sheilla Anne Depio RA

 The authenticity of the refugee population data in Uganda remained controversial until 2018 when a biometric registration exercise was conducted. Results from verification exercise indicated that nearly 25 percent of the 1.4 million refugee population at the beginning of the exercise could not be traced. As at the end of October 2018, Uganda was home to 1,154,352 refugees and asylum seekers (including new entrants) as compared to the 1,470,981 reported in June.

According to the OPM and UNHCR, the largest proportions of refugee population data gaps are in the northern settlements of Imvepi, Rhino, Palorinya and Palabek which also double as areas where some of the latest arrivals had been resettled. Although the OPM attributes some of this reduction to death, spontaneous return, free movement in country and no shows, it is eminent that there were incidences of repeat registrations by refugees and in some cases ghosts.

Initially this appeared to be a problem originating from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) because for nearly three years preceding, the OPM did not share data on refugee registrations. Although UNHCR has been at the fore of the verification exercise, a recent audit into the operations of the UN refugee agency revealed widespread fraud, misappropriation of aid and manipulation of data.

The report highlights a lot of irregularities in the way land and contracts were secured and managed. This alone could have resulted into more financial leakages than the inflated numbers of refugee alone. One could argue that the dishonesty is deliberate and systemic as in the words of Nigel Evans (UK’s Conservative MP) - “What seems to be happening at every level is stealing from some of the poorest people on the planet, with government officials or agencies that are either culpable or inadequate for this vital job”. So is it worthwhile for donors to increase or continue with the current level of spending on refugees??

Prior to the biometric verification and audit, Uganda had registered significant growth in donor funding towards the refugee response- especially following the solidarity summit. According to UNOCHA’s Financial Tracking System (FTS), financing towards refugee activities in Uganda increased from $134 million in 2015 to $347 million in 2017. Expenditure by UNHCR’s alone leaped from $63 million in 2015 to $205 million in 2017. These donations were primarily obtained from the United States, EU and Britain. 

Trends in refugee population data and funding

Trends in refugee population data and funding

Source: UNOCHA- Financial Tracking System (FTS)

Due to the growing numbers, the financial appeal for 2018 was made based on projections benchmarked from refugee populations of 2017. However in 2018, despite the refugee population, financial inflows reduced to $310 million. Part of this reduction can be explained withhold funds by some donors until the completion of the verification exercise.

In fact by mid-2018, only 6% of Uganda's 2018 Integrated Refugee Response Plan (RRP) was funded and the monies coming in were earmarked for short term interventions. The absolute decline in funding between 2017 and 2018 might appear a mere 10%. But given the numbers and the 2018 appeal, contribution constituted less than 50% of the funding requirement and significantly affected the lives and livelihoods of refugees in terms of service delivery and overall welfare.

With the reduction in numbers of refugees requiring support, it is going to be more difficult for the OPM, UNHCR and other stakeholders to convince donors to dig deeper into their pockets to fund refugee programs. The ongoing trends and the quest for funders to get their best out of every coin donated also means that Uganda will continue to suffer under funding or even sink deeper in need of additional funds for refugees. Yet, the 2019/2020 Integrated Refugee Response Plan projects that Uganda will be home to 1.74 million refugees and require slightly above USD 1 billion by end of 2019.

In view of the above, unreliable and unpredictable funding for the refugee crisis will continue to have detrimental effects for refugees and majority of their hosts. Particularly, the populations will be unable to adequately nourish themselves, enroll, attend or keep in school and primary health care will deteriorate primarily driven by breakouts of water-borne –diseases.

Uncertainty in refugee funding is taking place against a backdrop of a potential sharp rise in new arrivals from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) due to the December 2018 presidential election. Historically the electoral process in DRC has been characterized by disputes, unrest and displacement.

The likelihood of conflict in the DRC will be aggravated by the disputes arising out of the first time use of e-voting, possible manipulation and the delayed release of poll results. It is therefore expected that the situation in DRC will continue to be fragile. This, coupled with the continued rebel activities and inter community violence in Eastern part of the country (North Kivu and Ituri) may cause a further influx of refugees.

 Sheila Depio is a Research Analyst at the Economic Policy Research Centre.

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