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‘World must stand with Uganda on refugees’

The funds will cover school fees for more than 500 refugees and Ugandan youth who cannot afford to stay in school, she said.

The new support will also help to improve conditions in secondary schools and provide small, but critical supplies that can affect school attendance, like sanitary pads for female students.

Besides partnering with international development agencies like the World Bank and the UNDP, the UNHCR is also looking at partnering with the private sector in the areas of education, energy, technology and connectivity.

“We will identify the types of activities that we want to help the government of Uganda with to build additional schools, classrooms, teachers, helping with school fees and supplies to ensure that more refugee children go to school.”

“We will also have discussions on how to help the government on further certification of schools so that students can take examinations and issues related to decongesting schools by looking at whether schools can do double shifts.”

“We know that the hospitality and generosity of Ugandan people cannot be taken for granted and that refugees and the host communities in the country must receive more global support,” Clements said.

Uganda continues to host the biggest refugee population in Africa with over 1.2 million refugees, 800,000 of whom are from South Sudan.

During her visit, Clements saw firsthand why Uganda is praised around the world for having one of the most progressive refugee asylum policies.

Clements said her team had been impressed with “the generosity of the Ugandan people and the resourcefulness and resilience of refugees.”

“I’ve been extremely impressed at how Uganda’s inclusive policies have improved the lives of refugees and the communities hosting them,” said Clements.

But the ever-growing task of caring for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable South Sudanese refugees could soon overwhelm the effort if new support is not found.

Clements said 2019 is a very important year for Uganda and the international community since the Global Compact on Refugees was signed in December last year calling for increased collaboration and responsibility sharing for host communities and governments.

“This is a critical time for the operation and our aim is to keep the spotlight on the important work that is being done in Uganda by the government, host communities and a number of partners who have joined with UNHCR,” she said.

“It’s a very competitive global environment with regards to resources; so our interest is to look at various programmes, look at the programme interventions that we wanted to place high priority coming into 2019.”

“Uganda represents the Global Compact in action, but the country can’t do it alone,” she said, “more global support is needed, particularly in the areas of education, economic opportunities and the environment.”

Although the influx of refugees into the country seems to have slowed down a bit in recent months, the emergence is not over and the humanitarian response needs continue to rise.

In Parolinya refugee settlement, Clements met with teachers, students and their parents and saw some of the myriad challenges they face every day.

Despite having one of the best refugee policies in the world, the country has been struggling to meet most of its obligations spelt out in UN refugee conventions, including the provision of education for refugee children.

The 1989 Convention on rights of children and the 1951 refugee convention note that education is a human right but many refugee children currently residing in Uganda are not studying.

By the end of 2017, about 345,000 refugee children were reported by UNHCR to be studying in all the 13 refugee settlements but, almost all of them study in overcrowded classrooms, with inadequate learning materials and other resources.

In response, the government through the Ministry of Education and Sports, donors, civil society organisations and other UN agencies last year came up with an “education response plan” for refugees and host communities targeting close to 700,000 children every year.

Close to 20 local and international organisations involved with responding to the refugee crisis in Uganda welcomed the programme in a joint communiqué.

“We see countless children forced to drop out of school; crumbling and overcrowded classrooms; schools without buildings or safe water and sanitation; and pupils having to walk miles to and from school every day.”

“What shines through is the children’s desire to learn and build a better future for themselves and their communities but the global response to the unprecedented movement of refugees has to date been inadequate.”

But, while the plan sets out the ambition and concrete steps to achieve this, close to US$390 million should be found if the programme is to be implemented.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR also intends to concentrate on environmental restoration projects in both the refugee settlements and the host communities.

Although Clements noted that the negative environmental impact is not unique to areas where refugees are, the UNHCR will make environmental restoration a high priority in 2019.

“We will be working with the National Forestry Authority and the Ministry of Water and Environment to replant the trees that have been felled for purposes of firewood,” she said, “Large scale environmental protection and restoration will go on both in refugee settlements and the adjacent communities.”

Boutroue, the UNHCR Country representative in Uganda noted that in order to preserve the country’s environment, they are looking at planting 20 million trees per year.

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