Uganda: As refugee influx persists, UN cites funding gaps

International

FILE – In this Thursday, June 8, 2017 file photo, from left, South Sudanese refugees Thomas Wani, 12, brother Peter Lemi, 14, mother Rose Sunday, and father Julius Lezu, cross a wooden bridge from South Sudan to Uganda at the Busia crossing, near Kuluba, in northern Uganda. The representative of the United Nations refugee agency in Uganda says “major gaps” in funding are constraining their work in the East African country sheltering 1.3 million refugees. Joel Boutroue told reporters in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019 that UNHCR in Uganda is operating at only 35% of the total requirements.(AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Major gaps in funding are constraining the work of the United Nations refugee agency in Uganda, according to the UNHCR representative in the East African country sheltering 1.3 million refugees.

The U.N. agency in Uganda is operating at only 35% of its total funding requirements, Joel Boutroue told reporters in the Ugandan capital, Kampala on Thursday. That means a big chunk of the agency’s plans cannot be implemented, he said, citing “donor fatigue” amid what he called a protracted refugee operation.

The agency’s current response plan needs $900 million per year.

“People continue to arrive on a daily basis and continue obviously to put pressure on existing resources and existing services offered either to the refugees or the host communities,” Boutroue said.

At least 70,000 refugees have arrived in Uganda since the beginning of 2019, many of them fleeing violence in neighboring Congo and South Sudan.

Praised internationally for welcoming refugees, Uganda also has faced scrutiny over corruption.

A report by the U.N.’s internal watchdog in 2018 said UNHCR misspent millions of dollars on Africa’s largest refugee crisis, including paying $320,000 for what became a parking lot at the Ugandan prime minister’s office. That report also said about $11 million was being spent on a recount of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda, to weed out potentially hundreds of thousands of so-called ghost refugees.

Over-counting refugees to bring in more funding carries the risk of officials quietly pocketing the difference.

More than a million South Sudanese fled to Uganda after fresh fighting broke out in July 2016, causing a scramble by the U.N. and other humanitarian actors to help them find food and shelter. In Uganda, the refugees are normally given cultivatable plots of land in efforts to integrate them into host communities.

Amid funding shortfalls, Ugandan authorities announced this month that refugee officials would conduct background checks and demand documentation while screening asylum seekers.

That directive raised concerns that Uganda’s government would become restrictive in accepting refugees.

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