Delayed biometric data registration intensifies Uganda asylum burden

Wednesday January 24 2018

Newly arrived refugees from South Sudan queue to be registered at Kuluba, north of the capital Kampala. Uganda currently hosts more than a million South Sudanese refugees. PHOTO FILE | AFP


Although the total number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda crossed the one million mark in August last year, only 986,140 are registered with biometric data.

The latest operational update for December 2017 estimates that the biometric information of some 51,272 asylum seekers from the world’s youngest nation is yet to be captured, five months on.

Biometric data provides details about the refugees, and helps the host government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners to determine the required emergency services such as food, water, shelter, health and nutrition care.

The lack of such data means there is added pressure on the available services and resources, putting the lives of vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly in danger.

Information from UNHCR field operation updates notes that registration is one of the “identified needs and remaining gaps,” among the asylum seekers.

“In Moyo District, refugees from Iboa village should be assisted with transportation to access biometric registration in Ibakwe Refugee Secondary School,” notes the report.


Asylum seekers

Data from the refugee agency puts the number of asylum seekers in Uganda at over 1.4 million, from 10 countries, namely South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Pakistan. 

It further notes that the country hosts 51 per cent of all South Sudan’s 1.9 million refugees worldwide, and that the influx has made Uganda “the host country of the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.”

READ: Uganda struggles to cope with 1m South Sudanese refugees


The South Sudan emergency response remains critically underfunded, with all the latest reports indicating a 66 per cent funding gap for the $674.25 million requested for 2017, the report shows.

This has impacted on some required services, including prompt biometric registration.

South Sudanese fleeing violence in their country have been flocking into northern Uganda since 2013. However in December, the number of new arrivals remained relatively low, totalling 3,159 in the regions covered by the Arua and Adjumani operations. This was a decline from the 3,471 recorded in November.

The UN refugee agency says insecurity, hunger, malnutrition, lack of access to livelihood opportunity and basic services in South Sudan may continue to force displacements.

“Moreover, the overall situation in the Greater Equatorial in South Sudan represents a continuous concern as insecurity persists,” notes UNHCR.

Land for refugees

Uganda is also running out of land to allocate to the increasing refugees, with allocated plot sizes progressively shrinking. Currently, the refugee households are allocated a 20-square metre plots, while previously they were given plots of land measuring 100 square metres to farm in order to supplement the food rations.

In a recent interview, the Commissioner for Refugees in Uganda’s Ministry of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees David Kazungu said UNHCR “needs to start thinking outside the box” because Uganda’s land size is not increasing while the refugee numbers keep swelling.

READ: Shrinking land opens new challenge facing South Sudanese refugees

Mid last year, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres hosted the Refugee Solidarity Summit in Kampala, hoping to use the occasion to draw the attention of the international community to raise $2 billion.

But the summit managed only $358 million, prompting government officials to quip that the UNHCR and the international community that they cannot look to the generosity of Uganda government’s refugee policy forever.

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