Beneath the surface of Uganda’s ‘exemplary’ refugee settlement, tensions simmer

Published: 16/Nov/2016
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

By Tom Gardner

LAKE NAKIVALE, Uganda – Nyirahubinka Maria, a Congolese refugee and mother of two, lives in “New Congo”, the oldest and largest of 86 small villages scattered over the plains and low rising hills that surround Lake Nakivale in southwest Uganda.

Three years ago, she and her family were offered the opportunity to resettle in the United States, the dream of many of Uganda’s roughly 800,000 refugees – but they turned it down.

Uganda, they say, has been both generous and welcoming: Maria runs a small shop that sells fabrics and drinks, while her husband has a bar in the town of Kisoro, nearly 200 km (125 miles) to the west of Nakivale, Uganda’s third largest refugee settlement.


Under the terms of the 2006 Refugees Act, refugees cannot own the land they cultivate, or the homes they live in – even if they have lived in the country for years.

And under Uganda’s constitution, citizenship is out of reach for all those with a parent or even grandparent who was a refugee.

“To date, there have been no cases of refugees who have been naturalised,” said Chris Dolan of the Refugee Law Project, a legal aid charity based in Kampala.

This leaves those with homes, businesses and deep roots in the country’s settlements vulnerable to eviction if their refugee status should lapse, he said.

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Themes: Nationality and Refugees
Regions: Uganda
Year: 2016