Uganda: Refugees learn about their rights
07 November 2009

Refugees learn about their rights during a workshop on refugee protection in Kampala. (Susi Moeller/JRS)
Kampala hosts at least 20,000 refugees and asylum seekers.

Kampala, 7 November 2009 – From November 5-6, 2009, JRS organised a workshop on refugee protection in cooperation with a number of refugee groups and organisations in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. The event, facilitated by Mr Godwin Buwa, a lawyer from the partner organisation, the Refugee Law Project, offered 30 refugee leaders, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Eritrea and Ethiopia, the opportunity to learn more about their rights and obligations.

The workshop opened by introducing participants to the theory and terminology of forced migration, asylum seekers, refugees and the related legal background. Subsequently, issues relating to the asylum process, the possibility of accessing education and training services and employment were explained in detail. Following a number of specific questions, Mr Buwa also offered the participants information regarding owning property and assets, particularly the laws relating to property titles. The following day, the Refugee Law Project lawyer explained the roles of the Ugandan government and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in  refugee protection.

According to UNHCR estimates in May this year, there are more than 140,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Uganda. Most of the refugees live in eleven UNHCR-supported settlements, but Uganda’s liberal refugee policy allows those who can support themselves to live outside the settlements. For this reason, Kampala hosts at least 20,000 refugees and asylum seekers.

The JRS Urban Programme has been assisting vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees residing in Kampala since 1998. Recurrent waves of fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia have forced significant numbers of refugees to seek protection in Uganda.

In 2009, the programme focused on three objectives: emergency aid, advocacy and education. More than 1,300 refugees and asylum seekers have so far received some form of emergency assistance for housing, food, healthcare and transport. Staff also provide a referral service for victims of torture and those in need of legal assistance, as well as participation in workshops and other awareness raising activities. English language courses are also offered to asylum seekers.

Despite the success of many of its projects, JRS faces difficulties due to a shortage of interpreters and delays in the government refugee determinations procedure which prevents refugees from moving on to the UN settlements.

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