With over 1.4 million refugees, Uganda is the third largest refugee hosting country in the world and the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa. Its progressive refugee policy enables refugees to enjoy access to asylum, freedom of movement, the right to work and own a business, and access services such as healthcare and education. However, despite Uganda’s generosity, refugee women, men, girls and boys of diverse backgrounds face numerous challenges to access protection, economic opportunities, and services such as healthcare, education and food assistance. The findings of the 2019 participatory assessment show that refugee women, men, girls and boys face a multitude of issues, often aggravated due to age, gender and other considerations.
The 2019 participatory assessment was organized by UNHCR in collaboration with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and partners working in the refugee operation. The assessment was conducted in all 12 refugee hosting districts in Uganda including Kampala and transit centers in Matanda and Kisoro. A total of 275 focus group discussions (FGDs) with an average of 10 participants per discussion were conducted with women, men, girls and boys of different nationalities and backgrounds, including persons with disabilities and ethnic and religious minorities. In addition, a total of 264 key informant interviews (KIIs) took place with community leaders, government officials and partner staff among others. The aim of the exercise is to ensure the meaningful participation of different groups of refugees by engaging in a dialogue about their challenges, capacities and proposed solutions.
Access to registration and documentation, quality food assistance and good quality healthcare were identified to be the overall priority areas for the refugee community. However, there were some notable differences between priority areas identified by women and girls and men and boys. Women report access to healthcare, registration and documentation and quality food assistance to be their main priorities, while men list access to food assistance, livelihoods and quality shelter as the main priorities. Girls reported sexual and gender-based violence, access to quality education and registration and documentation as their main concerns. Boys reported child abuse and exploitation, access to food assistance and registration and documentation to be their main priorities. The findings show that both boys and girls consider physical security and safety to be a priority.
The main barriers in accessing services such as healthcare, food assistance, WASH facilities, legal services, and registration and documentation reported were the long distances to reach these services, the long waiting times, the lack of or limited access to information, language barriers, the negative attitude of service staff and discrimination on the basis of nationality, ethnicity and sex. Additionally, women and girls reported a lack of security to be a barrier to access services, noting that they are exposed to SGBV when walking long distances, fetching water and grass or collecting firewood. The limited security lighting in and around the settlements further adds to their sense of insecurity.
Several challenges to access existing feedback and response channels were also reported. The majority of refugee women, men, girls and boys of diverse backgrounds complained about the delayed and at times lack of response to feedback. Language barriers, illiteracy, and technological challenges were also mentioned to be barriers to access information and provide feedback.
While the findings show that both women and girls and men and boys face challenges in accessing services, women and girls often face additional challenges. The results show that women of almost all age groups in all settlements experience gender discrimination and restrictive socio-cultural norms expose them to SGBV and prevent them from fully enjoying their rights. Women and girls are generally seen as less valuable and are expected to stay at home to perform domestic chores, rather than enjoy education or engage in livelihood activities for renumeration. Men and boys are also negatively affected by the restrictive social and cultural norms. The pressure to provide for the family and the unacceptability of helping in and around the house was reported to have negative effects on men and boys. Both women and men with disabilities reported higher barriers in access to services, mainly due to long distances and lack of transportation options. Ethnic minority women and men of different ages report discrimination from service providers and refugees from the majority groups, referring to the low representation of ethnic minorities in refugee leadership structures as an example.
FGDs with children between the age of 12 and 17 years old and adults of diverse backgrounds, conclude that children face various risks including physical violence, child labour, child marriage, rape and other forms of SGBV and harmful practices, leading to a general sense of insecurity among children. Separated and unaccompanied children, orphans, children with disabilities, child headed households and girls were reported to be at the greatest risk. It was reported that children with disabilities are often unable to enjoy education and girls’ education is often deprioritized within refugee families, as it is believed that they will not be able to financially contribute to the family.
The report highlights existing capacities within the refugee community to cope with the challenges that were identified, ranging from the provision of translation services and psychosocial counselling to sensitization of the community on the importance of gender equality and eradication of harmful practices. The report also highlights recommendations from the refugee community for each sector. The findings of this assessment are to inform and improve UNHCR and partner programming.