Are Integrated Services a Step Towards Integration in Northern Uganda?

Regional Durable Solutions Secretariat (ReDSS), 2019


This study examines the longer-term implications of assistance that targets both South Sudanese refugees and their host communities in Northern Uganda. It examines current policy and practice in terms of shared services, social and economic implications of shared services from the perspectives of refugees and host populations, and the longer-term implications of an integrated service delivery model. Fieldwork was undertaken in Alere, Mirieye and Maaji III settlements in Adjumani district, Rhino Camp in Arua district, and surrounding host communities, focusing on education and livelihoods. Key findings:

  • Many of the longer-term objectives featured in Uganda’s policies have yet to be achieved in practice. The current approach is characterised by a short-term emergency focus. Many refugee services sit outside national service delivery structures.
  • Despite the rights offered to refugees in Uganda (right to work, access to basic services, access to land for cultivation, relative freedom of movement) and social networking within the vicinity of the settlements, few refugees living in settlements are fully or even informally integrated into host communities. Integration is hampered by lack of naturalization opportunities, insecurity in refugee communities, the use of aid to anchor refugees to settlements, and limited prospects for sustainable livelihoods. Refugees who are unregistered and opt out of Uganda’s policy framework are often those who are most self-reliant and integrated.
  • Host communities are “the first donors in the refugee response”. At present, host communities in the vicinity of refugee settlements do benefit from the support and services provided to refugees, which assists host communities in their initial decision-making about whether to accept refugees. However, this initial bargain can be affected by unmet expectations relating to direct tangible benefits to host community households and the land-related tensions that can develop in settlement situations.
  • When host communities are included in a refugee response, their specific needs tend to be treated as secondary considerations within that response, with implications for the relevance of support provided. The significant financial and opportunity costs to host communities (e.g. environmental degradation) and to specific individuals who are negatively affected by refugee hosting are downplayed, and these costs may become more pronounced as refugee stays become more protracted. The 70:30 principle (30 percent of support is provided to the host community) helps ensure host communities benefit from the overall refugee response, but its application is unclear and inconsistent giving rise to tensions.
  • Support for education and livelihoods struggles to meet core objectives, thus limiting the potential for economic integration. There is some evidence that shared education facilitates a degree of peaceful coexistence (both between learners from refugee communities and across refugee and host communities), but as yet there is no indication that this supports the broader social integration of communities. The location of services in geographically isolated settlements where there are low numbers of relatively dispersed Ugandans not only limits the number of Ugandans who can benefit from these services but restricts the potential for social interaction between refugees and host communities. Additionally, the services established in settlements are oriented to support highly concentrated refugee communities, which means that services are likely to be established as parallel refugee services, and that services are unlikely to be sustained should refugee repatriation occur. The overall refugee response model in Uganda does not currently provide prospects for economic integration for most refugees.
  • Social integration of South Sudanese refugees is occurring on a localised level, especially where host communities are on the periphery of settlements or in towns, creating social bonds and developing trust, contributing to interdependence, peaceful coexistence and economic interaction.
  • Against a backdrop of mainly positive relations between refugees and host communities in the vicinity of settlements, there are areas of significant strain. Many of these revolve around issues of access: to natural resources, services and humanitarian assistance. The harmony across refugee and host communities is in contrast to the more strained relations within refugee communities, which erupt into violence at times (often inter-ethnic but also relating to access to services and opportunities).
  • The identity and social capital of both refugees and host communities are key determinants in their level of integration. Additional factors are equally important, including: proximity to host communities; the availability and proximity of services; and the quality and amount of land upon which they are settled.
  • There is a danger that focusing primarily on the productive capacities of refugees risks excluding from policy discussions more thorough consideration of their rights and protection needs. It is essential to go beyond support for economic activities and to understand the importance of social integration as a core element in refugee self-reliance strategies.
  • Longer-term development programmes aimed at addressing the vulnerability of refugees and their hosts should take an area-based approach.

The report proposes five recommendations designed to improve refugee-related policy and programming in mutually beneficial ways for both refugees and host communities:

  • Drive forward, fund and ensure coordinated support for current efforts to integrate and localise the Ugandan refugee response (e.g. integrate refugees into the National Development Plan II, sector-specific response plans etc.).
  • Ensure the Livelihoods and Jobs Response Plan incorporates an achievable strategy of self-reliance for refugees both within and outside settlements that is linked to the economic development and social integration of refugee-hosting districts.
  • Prioritise and fund settlement and site planning so that refugees in settlements have better prospects of self-reliance and land sensitivities are managed more effectively
  • Engage host communities in a more systematic way and address the actual financial costs and opportunity costs of refugee hosting.
  • Recognise and address the diversity of the South Sudanese refugee population and increase capacities for conflict management