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Uganda: refugees struggle to survive following aid cuts

Internally displaced people from Rutshuru territory in troubled DR Congo's North Kivu province lining up for lunch at the Nyakabande Holding area in Kisoro, Uganda. 07/06/2022   -  
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Uganda's refugee population is struggling to survive following cuts to humanitarian aid, according to the UN World Food Programme.

Facing a funding shortfall of over 60% for its global needs, the UN food agency was forced to reduce its food rations in Uganda from 70 to 30 per cent in July this year and prioritise the most vulnerable. 

The agency says further cuts are likely to come. 

With further cuts likely to come, putting food on the table has become a daily battle for the country's many refugees.

Top refugee-hosting nation

Uganda hosts more refugees than any other country in Africa, with approximately 1.5 million refugees and 32,000 asylum seekers living in the East African country in 2022. 

With refugees continuing to arrive, many from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, the reduced food rations are life-threatening. 

Many refugees have turned to petty trade, with some resorting to selling their belongings, while others have even been forced to engage in criminal activities in order to survive. 

"We are seeing some of them resorting to selling their household assets. They have goat or a cup or even a radio or a phone, and they sell that," said Santo Asiimwe, a WFP staff member at the Nakivale settlement near the border with Tanzania.

Up to 70 per cent of the refugees in Nakivale are mothers who are desperate to find ways to care for their children. 

Malnutrition rates among children are rising in Nakivale and other settlements, with 7% of young children suffering from acute malnutrition.

Rising hostility

Asiimwe says that host communities are becoming more hostile towards the refugees, with some accusing refugees of stealing. 

Recently, Minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness Hillary Onek said that "hunger is forcing [refugees] into criminality" and that the situation is not "sustainable".

Onek said that Uganda has called on the global community for support.

Donor support

The WFP is now appealing for immediate intervention before the situation deteriorates further.

"If donor support is not mobilized within the shortest possible time, we are yet to see another human catastrophe. So, what is the level of human need that we are talking about? We are talking about 78-79 million U.S. dollars by 2024, February," said Asiimwe.

In 2022, less than half of the funding required for Uganda's refugee response was received, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

Uganda has been praised by the international community for its "progressive refugee response" which focuses on promoting self-reliance and the integration of refugees into their host communities.

Now, however, there are fears that the present lack of funding could give the Ugandan government "no other choice than to scale down their support to refugees".

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