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Uganda Refugee Aid Groups Cry Foul Over Government Suspensions

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Refugee aid groups in Uganda are crying foul after the government suspended more than 200 of them, three quarters of the total, for non-compliance with rules and permits.  A U.N. special advisor on gender and displacement welcomed the suspensions as a move toward better transparency and regulation.  But some activists worry the suspensions could impact 1.4 million refugees who reside in Uganda. 

Uganda’s minister for Refugees and Disaster Preparedness, in mid-August, released a list of 208 organizations said to be operating illegally in the country’s refugee camps and settlements.  

According to the letter, these groups lack either permits or memorandums of understanding required to operate.  

The International Rescue Committee in Uganda was placed under category three on the list — organizations that have valid MOU’s but are operating with expired permits.

Elijah Okeyo, country director of the IRC, says the list was wrong.

“Their system was not cleaned,” Okeyo said. “So, even IRC is there, but we have a valid permit until 2022. So, we have already corrected our information in their system. If they run another report, the result will be much more, maybe credible.”

A refugee from South Sudan transports food she received from the World Food Program (WFP) in Palorinya settlement camp for distribution, in Moyo district northern Uganda, Oct. 26, 2017.
FILE – A refugee from South Sudan transports food she received from the World Food Program (WFP) in Palorinya settlement camp for distribution, in Moyo district northern Uganda.

Action Aid Uganda falls under category six of the minister’s list — groups that have neither MOU’s nor permits and are therefore not authorized to operate.  

Henry Ogwal, the Action Aid International Director of Programs and Policy, also says the list was in error.

“We signed a new MOU on the 4th of March this year. Which means it expires on the 4th March 2023. So, we think that that is an error which should be corrected,” said Ogwal.

Julius Mucunguzi, the spokesperson for the Office of the Prime Minister, says mistakes on the list are easy to fix. 

“Let them come out publicly to denounce the list,” said Mucunguzi. “If any NGO, any partner has an issue with that list, on where they have been placed, they know the procedure they need to follow to rectify the situation. Either to get themselves right, or to get themselves off that list.”

Victor Ochen, the global advisor to the U.N. Human Rights Commission for Refugees on Gender, Forced Displacement and Protection, praised the government’s move, which he said could reduce overlap between refugee aid groups. 

“In a way I am happy that the government is coming clean about who is working. There is a lot of duplication, there’s a lot of pronouncements about invisible work which is happening in the community,” said Ochen. “I credit the government on their move to be transparent about their partners on the ground when it comes to this humanitarian response.”

However, activists insist this kind of publication could jeopardize services at a time when the government needs all the help it can get to support refugees in Uganda.

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