What Jordan can learn from Uganda: The Refugee Crisis

What Jordan can Learn from Uganda

There has never been a universal approach to dealing with the many refugee crises throughout history. Some countries handle influxes of refugees better than others. This is because many countries have not created policies to support refugees, and in times of crisis, are caught in a bind, where they support the intake of refugees, but have no way to properly help them. Jordan is currently experiencing an influx of refugees without any clause written in the constitution that specifically discusses what should be done in a situation like the current one. Jordan is unlike Uganda, where they are in a state that highly supports refugees and encourages resettlement.

Refugees in Uganda

For many years, due to intense conflict, Uganda was never viewed as a safe haven for refugees, as many of its own citizens were fleeing the violence within the country. Today with the conflict behind them, Uganda hosts over 430,000 registered refugees, which makes the country the 8th largest refugee-hosting country in the world, and the 3rd largest in Africa. Uganda hosts refugees mainly from South Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Uganda is known for its progressive refugee and asylum policies. Upon receiving refugee status, refugees are provided with small plots of land in villages incorporated in the host community. This is flaunted as a ground-breaking method that improves social cohesion and allows refugees and host communities to live together peacefully. Refugees have access to the same services as Ugandans, have the right to work and to establish their own businesses. They enjoy freedom of movement and are given land for agricultural use, which reduces dependency on humanitarian aid.

The Ugandan government has also included refugee management and protection within its own domestic policies. This approach means Uganda has created a productive atmosphere for including long-term development planning into the humanitarian response for refugees and their host communities.

Refugees in Jordan

Jordan has been in the headlines many times within the past 5 years, as they neighbour war-torn Syria. The country currently hosts over 660,000 refugees, with an estimated total of over 1.5 million (most refugees are not registered with the UNHCR). Jordan is the 6th largest refugee-hosting country in the world, and 5th in the Middle East. Jordan is not new to being a major host country for refugees either. The 1948 Palestine War brought over 2 million Palestinian refugees, many of whom have claimed Jordanian citizenship and now consider the country home. As well, due to many invasions inciting war in Iraq over the course of 26 years, the UNHCR estimates that nearly 1 million Iraqis have sought refuge in Jordan.

While Jordan has been very welcoming as a refuge for Syrians, the country needs to improve their plan to support refugees once they settle.

There is no legal framework to deal with refugees in Jordan, but the UNHCR claims that Jordan provides asylum for many Syrians and recognises them as refugees, and has granted them access to health, education, and other services in their host communities.  Syrians entering the country as asylum seekers or who are registered as refugees with UNHCR are not given residency.

Unfortunately, in 2015, Jordan restricted the movement of Syrian refugees and instructed the UNHCR to stop issuing Asylum Seeker Certificates (ASCs), which are the documents needed to obtain access to health, education and other social services.

Now, over a million Syrian refugees in Jordan are reliant on humanitarian aid and the hospitality of Jordanians who are willing to help. Jordan is in the process of creating a better plan on how to support refugees, however, they are in a bit of a panic as policies cantake many years to develop, and the situation needs to be dealt with immediately.

The refugee crisis has put a strain on Jordan’s economy. Of course, supporting refugees is more important, but if Jordan provided opportunities for refugees to become productive members of society, the strain would not be as strong, and Syrian refugees would be able to support themselves.

This is the model Uganda has used and it seems to be working well for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who now call Uganda home.