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West Nile leaders decry influx of urban refugees

Refugees in West Nile. File Photo

Arua, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Leaders in West Nile sub-region have expressed concern over what they call the increasing burden posed by urban refugees on service delivery. The majority of the urban refugees are from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC, Somalia, and Eritrea among others.

Currently, Koboko municipality and Arua city are among the urban centers that have the biggest number of urban refugees in the region. Recently, research carried out by Cities Alliance and AVSI Foundation indicates that Arua city Central Division alone has 10,000 urban refugees.

In 2018, a survey by VNG, an international cooperation agency of the association of Netherlands’ municipalities operating in the West Nile sub-region indicated that a total of 23,128 self-settled urban refugees live in Koboko municipality.

The leaders argue that the refugees who are often ignored by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) have increased pressure on resources and social services like water, health and education. They now want the government through OPM to intervene by providing additional resources to the affected urban centers to address the challenge.

Marlon Avutia, the Mayor Ayivu Division in Arua City, says the presence of urban refugees has increased competition between the refugees and host communities on the available resources, noting that if not addressed urgently by the government, it could trigger conflict.

Koboko Municipality Mayor Wilson Sanya, says although they have tried to share the limited resources with the refugees, they are often constrained by inadequate resources.

“Sometimes, we are constrained to budget for them because there are few schools, health centers, and water sources,” Sanya said.

Geoffrey Feta, the Ayivu East Member of Parliament, says more refugees moved to urban centers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic period, which has exerted more pressure on available social services.

According to Caesar Draecabo, the President of the Arua City Development Forum, there is a need for the central government to consider changing laws to provide for urban refugees in the budget.

Solomon Osakan, the Arua District Refugee Desk Officer, says refugees are meant to stay in the camps according to the Refugee Act. He further says they have failed to conduct a census for urban refugees in the country due to the absence of an enabling refugee policy.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Office of the Prime Minister report of April 2022, West Nile is home to 814,795 refugees mainly from South Sudan.



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