Uganda: Rapid assessment of population movement in Gulu and Pader



This briefing paper presents preliminary analysis of research conducted with IDPs in Gulu and Pader in 16 "new settlement" and "decongestion" sites in six different subcounties from 12-22 May 2007. The research team used a combination of forty-two in depth one-on-one interviews and ten focus group discussions with IDPs. Additional interviews were also conducted with key government and agency officials in the said districts. While a rapid assessment cannot claim to make a definitive statement on the situation, the intention of this briefing is to shed light on dynamics surrounding population movement, in order to better understand what the decongestion and resettlement sites represent, and to raise issues requiring further investigation.

The three over-arching questions investigated were: 1) what is the nature of the decongestion and resettlement sites? 2) Where do they fit in the overall return process? 3) Do IDPs in such sites require on-going humanitarian support or should there instead be a shift from humanitarian assistance to post-conflict developmental intervention?

The assessment reveals ongoing doubts about whether the Juba peace process will result in a durable peace, and correspondingly tentative movements out of the mother camps. Three distinct types of movement are observable; government encouraged moves to 'decongestion sites', and spontaneous movement to 'new settlement sites' in response to conditions in the mother camps, and spontaneous movement to original homes. Only the last is considered as return home by the IDPs themselves. The viability of new sites is discussed first by clan meetings in the mother camps, though subsequent decisions to move are taken at the household level.

In all settlement types there continue to be acute gaps in all areas of humanitarian service provision ranging from a nearly complete absence of health and sanitation facilities, human resource shortages within all sectors including education, possible food-insecurity in areas of "return", and critical gaps in physical and legal protection. The context remains highly militarised and the rule of law has yet to be re-established.


At the height of displacement in northern Uganda, 2 million people were either in camps or in locations other than their areas of origin. Since the government of Uganda and the rebels of the Lords Resistance Army/Movement (LRA/M) announced their intention to negotiate a peaceful end to the 21 year old conflict in northern Uganda, and still more since the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities on 23 August 2006, there has been a gradual improvement in the security situation in the greater northern Uganda and to a limited extent in Eastern Uganda. Humanitarian access has improved, and freedom of movement has been promoted by the Inter Agency Standing Committee in Uganda spearheaded by UNHCR from 2006 onwards. The Government has also come under increasing scrutiny and pressure from the international community, most clearly following two United Nations Security Council Resolutions (1653 - January 2006, and 1663 - March 2006) addressing the situation in northern Uganda.

There have been substantial reductions in IDP numbers, notably in the Lango region, and the Government has been keen to portray the emergency situation as nearly ended. Indeed it has tended to present the return process in Lango as representative of returns throughout the whole of northern Uganda, and as "evidence" that the humanitarian situation has dramatically improved. In November 2006 the Office of the Prime Minister commissioned return assessment officers to investigate IDP return intentions, but in reality they also in some cases strongly encouraged people to leave the mother camps. Currently there are ongoing discussions about replacing the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) (a temporary organ established in May 2006 with the objective of monitoring the Government's Emergency Humanitarian Action Plan), with a body charged with ensuring the coordination of the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP), as a more accurate reflection of the coordination needs given the current state of affairs (1).

In reality however, GoU rhetoric does not fully describe the current state of affairs. Close to 1.6 million people remain in IDP camps spread over northern Uganda (2). In the Acoli sub-region, which has the longest history of mass internal displacement, movement out of the 'mother camps' has been notably more tentative than in the Lango region. By March 2007, while 76% of IDPs in the Lango region had already returned to their villages of origin, in Acoli only 1% had returned to villages of origin, a further 24% were in 'new settlements', and 75% remained in the mother camps. As of May 2007 the Acoli sub-region is still host to 722,852 IDPs, with another population of 367,985 in transition to sites identified by the government's District Security Committees and the District Disaster preparedness Committees (DDMCs) (3). As these figures suggest, some IDPs have moved or are moving into 'decongestion' sites and to "new settlements" located alongside major roads and facilities, but very few have returned to pre-displacement homes.


(1) It should be noted that whereas the JMC was charged specifically with the LRA affected areas, the PRDP addresses the greater northern Uganda, including Karamoja and West Nile.

(2) Refer to statement by John Holmes, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Briefing to the Security Council on the Situation in Africa: Humanitarian Affairs in Somalia and Uganda, 21 May 2007

(3) Refer to IASC Working Group.