Uganda: keeping hope alive this World Refugee Day
20 July 2015

JRS Fashion and Design instructor, Agnes Amagio, prays before the commencement of World Refugee Day in Kampala, Uganda (Beatriz Arnal/Jesuit Refugee Service).
Refugee leaders called for more respect, equality, opportunities and basic human rights.
Kampala, 20 July 2015 – Witnessing the faces of asylum seekers and refugees beaming with hope was a notable experience during this year’s belated World Refugee Day celebration on 26 June 2015 in Kampala. Under the theme Refugees are regular people too; Get to know them and support them, 300 refugees of all ages came together to celebrate this important day together with JRS staff at the JRS Kampala compound.

It was a chance to honour the spirit and courage of millions of refugees worldwide.

Kampala is among the many sites in Uganda hosting large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, with more than 50,000 in the city limits. Thousands of forcibly displaced persons from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan among others have fled  civil war, violence, persecution, drought, and failed harvests to seek refuge in Uganda.

Barriers to integration. Upon arrival in Kampala, they must not only adapt to a new life but also struggle with several psychological, material, and financial hardships. Many struggle to make basic ends meet and some face daunting language barriers which inhibit their ability to integrate into Ugandan society.

Refugee children must adapt from their former education systems to Ugandan schools, which has proven overwhelming.  For many of these youngsters, schools in their home countries were ill-equipped or non-existent. Thus, upon enrolling in the Ugandan school system they often experience culture shock and lose self-confidence.

Refugees continuously struggle to access their most basic needs, ranging from food, shelter, clothing, and medical attention to education and employment. These factors make it difficult for refugees in Kampala to live a dignified life, especially for women. However, they continue to demonstrate resilience and keep hope alive in the face of all these daunting challenges.

Resilience. During the World Refugee Day celebration, this resilience was showcased through their words and actions.

In hosting the event, JRS aimed to create space for refugees to express themselves and showcase their talents in drama, comedy, creative dance, fashion design, arts and crafts among others. The organisation’s presence, therefore, did not go unnoticed by refugees and partners who praised JRS for accompanying and listening to refugees.

In addition to cultural performances and games, JRS and refugee community leaders shared speeches and prayers with the audience that emphasised the great capabilities of refugees and the contributions they make to their communities. In their speeches, refugee leaders called for more respect, equality, opportunities and basic human rights. The confidence with which they spoke and demonstrated their demands, illustrates that today’s struggles produce a better tomorrow.

For refugees in Kampala, their forced displacement has not stood in their way. They continue to work to change the way they are treated, perceived and valued as they aspire for personal progress. Rather than react to their past sufferings, refugees used World Refugee Day as an opportunity to press forward and demand changes in the status quo that threaten their overall wellbeing.

World Refugee Day in Kampala made evident that the efforts of JRS over the years have not been fruitless and that dignity, respect and peace transcend cultural, religious, political, social and ideological boundaries of all. As refugees in Kampala continue to persevere to make changes in their communities, they plant small seeds which can grow into a more dignified life for the displaced. 

Godfrey Ogena, JRS Kampala Psychosocial Coordinator

Press Contact Information
Angela Wells
+254 20 3874152