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Are progressive refugee laws sufficient to ensure self-reliance for refugees? Insights from Uganda

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
Uganda’s refugee laws are among the most progressive in the world. As the third largest host country in Africa with over 568,000 refugees, Uganda’s approach of giving refugees the right to work, freedom of movement and access to social services among others, has allowed refugees to positively contribute to their own and Uganda’s economic and social development. To understand better the economic impacts of these progressive policies, the World Bank along with UNHCR and Government of Uganda undertook a study on Uganda’s Progressive Approach to Refugee Management
 
We observed that over 78 percent of refugees in rural settlements, where they receive agricultural land, are engaged in agricultural activities compared to 5 percent in urban areas. Crop surpluses attract Ugandan traders to the refugee settlements, operating as a direct supply chain for sale of agriculture produce but also supply of agriculture inputs like fertilizers and seeds.
 
Refugee farmer in Nakivale settlement area, Uganda   (Photo: UNHCR)


However, about 66 percent of respondents reported that local traders use faulty scales when weighing produce, which shortchanges them. Seventy percent decried the extremely low prices offered by local traders for produce, with implications for the ability and timing of refugees to become self-reliant. This was made worse by the significant losses in quality and quantity of agriculture produce due to poor harvest handling techniques and inadequate storage facilities, and surpluses were sold immediately after harvest at the lowest point in the price cycle. This shows that while refugees have land to cultivate, they are unable to realize the potential due to lack of technical, infrastructural and marketing support, contributing to food insecurity and under nutrition among smallholder farming refugee families, especially during lean seasons.
 
Business enterprises such as bars, hair dressing, milling, transportation, money transfers, and retail are run by refugees. Twenty-eight percent of female refugees are involved in agriculture, trade, or are self-employed; their participation in the formal sector is low—only 9 percent. Initiatives such as Community Savings Groups and women savings and credit groups have provided female refugees with seed money to start businesses. There is reportedly some level of gender discrimination with respect to access to land, credit, employment, and self-employment opportunities.  
 
We observed that almost 43 percent of the refugees are actively engaged in the labor market of their host communities: 12 percent in the formal sector and 31 percent self-employed. However, refugees expressed constraints accessing formal employment both in urban areas and rural settlements, relating to unfamiliarity with the language, legal issues, poor interview skills, discrimination, and a lack of relevant documents. Refugees are mainly engaged in occupations that provide little income, social protection, or job security.
 
Refugee settlement areas have attracted the attention of Ugandan private enterprises, such as the Ugandan telecom companies, which launched several initiatives aimed at targeting refugee users of SMS banking and transfer services. For example, Orange Uganda Limited, a provider of telecommunication and Internet services in Uganda, invested in a large radio tower in the Nakivale settlement to promote its "Orange money" services. In Rwamwanja and Adjumani, a number of refugees operate as mobile money unit agents providing employment for them, while facilitating other refugees in accessing remittances from their relatives and friends within or outside the country. This mobile money is hugely helpful to refugees trying to meet expenses, including school fees for their children.
 
But in Uganda, and across the rest of the Horn of Africa, refugee camps and settlements are located in areas where the host communities are among the most underserved, with significant development deficits of their own. The majority of refugee settlements in Uganda are in the relatively stable north, though it has communities still in a state of latent conflict, driven by new and long-standing grievances, poverty, perception of marginalization, competition over national resources, and societal fracture as legacies of decades of violent conflict. The region also has high levels of poverty and youth unemployment which poses challenges to refugee efforts at self-reliance.
 
This got us thinking about a couple of important questions: "Are progressive refugee laws and policies sufficient to ensure self-reliance for refugees? What insights does this provide to the range of organizations including UNHCR and NGOs engaged in advocacy efforts aimed at more progressive refugee laws and policies?"
 
We believe that progressive refugee laws that guarantee freedom of movement and right to work and own property are critical for economic self-reliance of refugees, without which it would be an impossibility. However, the Ugandan experience also tells us that while refugees have engaged in economic activities and employment, they haven’t all achieved self-reliance and many remain aid dependent. For us an important learning is that only when progressive refugee laws are complemented by significant developmental investments in the host communities can refugees have a real shot at self-reliance, benefitting from the attendant reduction in poverty, increase in quality of basic services, better infrastructure and economic opportunities.
 
We see a huge opportunity in Uganda with the recent government-led efforts to address the development challenges of settlements that are home to locals and refugees with the inclusion of the Settlement Transformative Agenda (STA) as part of National Development Plan II (NDP II 2015/16–2019/20). The STA aims to promote social and economic development in the refugee hosting areas for both locals and refugee communities in partnership with the UN agencies in Uganda, the World Bank and other stakeholders. The World Bank is supporting this effort through the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) in Uganda, which will help improve access to basic social services, expand economic opportunities, and enhance environmental management for communities hosting refugees in Adjumani, Arua, Isingiro and Kyriandongo districts.
 

Obstacles to development: what data are available on fragility, conflict and violence?

Edie Purdie's picture

This is part of a series of blogs focused on the Sustainable Development Goals and data from the 2016 Edition of World Development Indicators.

Over half a million people were killed by intentional homicide in 2012, while in 2014 there were more than one hundred thousand battle-related deaths. Episodes of such violence and unrest can reverse development efforts and rapidly dismantle achievements built over a long time, along social, political economy, and physical dimensions.

Ending poverty means closing the gaps between women and men

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture

A woman in a Niger village cooks for her family. Photo © Stephan Gladieu/World Bank

For the first time in history, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%. The world has never been as ambitious about development as it is today. After adopting the Sustainable Development Goals and signing the Paris climate deal at the end of 2015, the global community is now looking into the best and most effective ways of reaching these milestones. In this five-part series I will discuss what the World Bank Group is doing and what we are planning to do in key areas that are critical for ending poverty by 2030: good governance, gender equality, conflict and fragility, creating jobs, and, finally, preventing and adapting to climate change.

The world is a better place for women and girls in 2016 than even a decade ago. But not for everyone, and definitely not everywhere: This is especially true in the world’s poorest, most fragile countries.
 
It’s also particularly true regarding women’s economic opportunities. Gender gaps in employment, business, and access to finance hold back not just individuals but whole economies—at a time when we sorely need to boost growth and create new jobs globally.

Focus on the “day before” to better plan for the “day after”

Raja Rehan Arshad's picture
Recovery efforts from the conflict in the Ukraine can learn much from reconstruction after natural disasters. Photo Credit: Alexey Filippov for UNICEF


Lessons learned over time from post-conflict recovery and reconstruction efforts reflect the need to reinforce stabilization immediately following the end of a conflict.

Being ready in advance with a recovery and reconstruction plan is one way to ensure that critical interventions can be implemented quickly following the cessation of hostilities.This can be achieved to a large extent by coordinating with humanitarian efforts in the recovery continuum during active conflict.
 
Such a plan helps to identify actionable opportunities that can help to support local-level recovery. This includes immediate improvements in services and enhancing livelihood opportunities essential to establishing popular confidence in state institutions and to fostering social cohesion.

Fragility, conflict, and natural disasters – a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to resilience?

Francis Ghesquiere's picture
A partner from the EU assesses damage to an apartment building in Ukraine. Photo credit: EU

It’s a simple yet essential idea: war and disaster are linked, and these links must be examined to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.

Alarmingly, the total number of disaster events – and the economic losses associated with those events – keep increasing. This trend has been driven by population growth, urbanization, and climate change, leading to increasing economic losses of $150-$200 billion each year, up from $50 billion in the 1980s. But here is another piece of information: more than half of people impacted by natural hazards lived in fragile or conflict-affected states.

Social media: Using our voice to end adversity

Bassam Sebti's picture
When was the last time you used your mobile phone camera? Yesterday, this morning, or a few minutes ago? How did you use it? To snap a photo of your child or pet, or maybe to identify a problem in your community to bring it to public attention?
 
Have you ever thought that your camera phone can actually capture more than the ordinary? Did you know that with just one snap you might be able to save lives and lift people out of hardship and poverty?
 
Yes, you can! At least one stranger in downtown Beirut believed so.

 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

The State of Broadband 2015: Broadband as a Foundation for Sustainable Development
Broadband Commission
Broadband Internet is failing to reach those who could benefit most, with Internet access reaching near-saturation in the world’s rich nations but not advancing fast enough to benefit the billions of people living in the developing world, according to the 2015 edition of the State of Broadband report. Released today just ahead of the forthcoming SDG Summit in New York and the parallel meeting of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development on September 26, the report reveals that 57% of the world’s people remain offline and unable to take advantage of the enormous economic and social benefits the Internet can offer.

POWER PEOPLE PLANET: Seizing Africa’s energy and climate opportunities
Africa Progress Panel
Can the world prevent catastrophic climate change while building the energy systems needed to sustain growth, create jobs and lift millions of people out of poverty? That question goes to the heart of the defining development challenges of the 21st century, and is the focus of this year’s report. It is a vital question for Africa. No region has done less to contribute to the climate crisis, but no region will pay a higher price for failure to tackle it.

Helping civil society build peace and restore trust

Alua Kennedy's picture


I like entertaining my western friends with stories of growing up in the post-communist Kazakhstan limbo, when everything ended, but nothing had yet started. Stories of how my friends and I would collect old newspapers to trade for books and Moscow magazine subscriptions. ​And later on, selling empty milk bottles back for some cash to buy candy and chewing gum in the newly opened Chinese shops. The audience goes “oohh” and “ahh”, and oh do I feel like I’ve seen a lot and know what life is like!

I have to admit – attending the Fragility Conflict and Violence (FCV) Forum 2015 that took place at the World Bank HQ last week was an experience that changed my perspective on hardships of life in developing countries. There are developing countries and then there are fragile and conflict-affected countries.

Cracking down on the insidious impact of organized crime in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States

Larissa Gray's picture



Drug smuggling and human trafficking, money laundering, the illegal exploitation of natural resources and wildlife, the sale of fraudulent medicines or counterfeit goods: They're all criminal activities – and they're all highly lucrative.

As documented by the World Development Report 2011these threats impede economic development, and Fragile and Conflict-Affected States (FCS) are especially vulnerable. In FCS situations – where countries have been devastated by war, are suffering from weak state security, or are enduring severe economic hardship – criminal networks operate with ease, using corruption and intimidation to undermine the integrity of public officials, institutions and the rule of law. Illegal activity often ends up undermining the state’s capacity to deliver even basic services. The far-reaching impact of such lawbreaking was recently explored at a panel – “Exploring the Link Between Fragility and Criminal Activity” – that was part of the World Bank’s “Fragility, Conflict and Violence Forum 2015.”

The diversion of assets toward illegal activities drains away resources and tax revenues that are needed for urgent human needs and vital civic priorities. Such a siphoning-off of scarce funds undermines governments' integrity and infects countries' investment climate – factors that are indispensable to creating jobs, boosting growth and building shared prosperity. This is an even greater danger in FCS countries, where trust in institutions is already impaired, and where lawbreaking can intensify popular grievances and provoke further violence.

A wide range of tools are available to practitioners seeking to address the scourge of criminal activity, helping them stem the illicit financial flows related to crime. On the prevention side, one example is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in Nigeria, which shows how increased contract transparency in the extractives sector has worked as a remedy. On the enforcement side, there are also criminal-justice mechanisms, like “follow the money” tools that can help trace and recover the proceeds of crime. Improved domestic and international cooperation can also help to combat criminal activities and their furtive flows of funds.

The need to fight illicit financial flows has become a worldwide policy priority, with leaders of the G20 and G8 nations now fully engaged in the crackdown on crime. The World Bank Group, for our part, has focused several of our Global Practices and specialized units – our practice groups on Governance, Finance and Markets, Trade and Competitiveness, and Energy and Extractive Industries, along with our Stolen Asset  Recovery (StAR) Initiative – on promoting coordinated action to fight criminal activities and illicit flows of funds. 

Efforts to ensure honesty, transparency, accountability and the rule of law help strengthen all aspects of the development process, and they are particularly important in FCS conditions. Understanding criminal activities in FCS situations, and asserting potential remedies, helps promote a clearer vision of the steps that can be taken to reduce transnational crime and to focus the full measure of the world's resources on achieving development impact.

People Power: What Do We Know About Empowered Citizens and Development?

Duncan Green's picture

This is a short piece written for UNDP, which is organizing my Kapuscinski lecture in Malta on Wednesday (4pm GMT, webcast live)

Power is intangible, but crucial; a subtle and pervasive force field connecting individuals, communities and nations in a constant process of negotiation, contestation and change. Development is, at its heart, about the redistribution and accumulation of power by citizens.

Much of the standard work on empowerment focuses on institutions and the world of formal power – can people vote, express dissent, organise, find decent jobs, get access to information and justice?

These are all crucial questions, but there is an earlier stage; power ‘within’. The very first step of empowerment takes place in the hearts and minds of the individuals who ask: ‘Do I have rights? Am I a fit person to express a view? Why should anyone listen to me? Am I willing and able to speak up, and what will happen if I do?’

Asking, (and answering) such questions is the first step in exercising citizenship, the process by which men and women engage with each other, and with decision-makers; coming together to seek improvements in their lives. Such engagement can be peaceful (the daily exercise of the social contract between citizen and state), but it may also involve disagreement and conflict, particularly when power must be surrendered by the powerful, to empower those ‘beneath’ them.


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