Uganda suspends three-quarters of refugee aid agencies from operating

Uganda suspends three-quarters of refugee aid agencies from operating

The Ugandan government has suspended operations of three-quarters of refugee aid organisations over non-compliance with operational rules.

The move affects 208 aid agencies, including 85 international groups. Hilary Onek, minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, said some organisations had been operating in refugee settlements illegally, without government approval.

Activists say the move will impact the more than 1.4 million vulnerable refugees in the east African nation, which is still under Covid-19 lockdown.

According to the government, many of the suspended NGOs lacked valid memorandums of understanding with the prime minister’s office, possessed expired permits to operate or were running unauthorised projects.

“The government of Uganda through the office of the prime minister is strongly cautioning all refugee partners to comply with the rules and regulations that govern refugee operations in Uganda,” said Onek in a directive, also copied to UN officials, security agencies and local authorities.

“Partners with invalid legal documents and non-compliance with the rules and regulations that govern refugee operations in the country should immediately leave the refugee settlements and report to the ministry of internal affairs before the end of this month of August. Those who fail to comply with this order will have broken the laws of Uganda and will be subjected to prosecution.”

Just 69 of 277 registered refugee organisations remain authorised to operate, according to government figures.

Activists say the decision to suspend 208 NGOs and partners will further complicate the lives of hundreds of refugees, who are mainly from neighbouring South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi.

Dismas Nkunda, executive director of Atrocities Watch Africa, said: “Operating in a refugee camp without valid authority is certainly not allowed under the regulations for managing refugee camps. There is a law in place for all this.

“You can imagine what this would mean in particular for the safety of refugees and their security, moreover in these Covid-19 times. So I think this move will remove such threats.

“However, 208 NGOs are simply too many to suspend once. This may leave a gap in the provision of humanitarian services such as medicine, food, shelter and education.”

On 26 August, the government of Uganda effectively placed Kyangwali settlement, home to 120,000 refugees in the western district of Kikuube under a complete lockdown after 22 humanitarian staff and 72 refugees tested positive for coronavirus.

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