Everybody is a potential refugee: Why we must uphold Refugee Rights

We should not only tolerate strangers but also love them. Refugees are just like the rest of the people, the only difference is that they are human beings who for some period of time stay in foreign places because of the circumstances beyond their control. We are all potential candidates for refugee status, especially in this 21st Century where most of the nations have modern weaponry in stock while the internal and inter-state relations are increasingly becoming fragile. That possibility is especially true to us in the Great Lakes region if we evoke our fresh history and compare it to the present.

Conflict is just one contributor to the refugee crisis – it is only one of the multiple factors including economic, climatic, environmental factors and or political persecution, some of which are even beyond our control. It should be remembered from our history concerning the issues of migration, that the origins of many ethnic groups in Uganda just like other parts of the world can be traced far away from where they are currently settled. This is a clear indication that all of us were once refugees or children of the refugees.

At present, violation of human rights is undeniably becoming a major contributor to the refugee crisis.

“Human rights violations are a major factor in causing the flight of refugees as well as an obstacle to their safe and voluntary return home. Safeguarding human rights in countries of origin is therefore critical both for the prevention and for the solution of refugee problems. Respect for human rights is also essential for the protection of refugees in countries of asylum“.- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

It is therefore imperative to ensure that there is respect for human rights by those entrusted with power in any country; and that the infringements on human rights are minimized at all costs. Respect for human rights reduces the number of refugees who flee the country because of abuses such as political persecution and others of the sort. More importantly, the refugee rights in the camps and settlements have to be respected because this is a category of people who are in need and highly vulnerable. All individuals should enjoy fundamental human rights and freedoms in their country and also in a foreign country if forced to leave their own by the circumstances beyond their control.

In regard to refugee rights in the camps and settlements, women, girls and children stand a higher chance of facing abuse than their male counterparts and other groups. This is because in such circumstances they are more vulnerable than the other categories. Taking an example of Uganda’s refugee demographics, the total number of refugees and asylum seekers in Uganda, as of March 2019, is over 1.2 Million where about 1 Million (about 83%) are women and children. Studies show that about 2000 women and children refugees are deemed to be at risk and are classified as persons with specific needs (Uganda- Refugee Statistics March 2019).

During conflict and times of seeking for refugee, women and girls suffer most from sexual harassment and torture which manifests itself more often in rape. There have been similar cases in camps and settlements. It is undesirable that similar scenarios occur even when they have reached the host communities. Lack of better basic services such as health care and education worsens the situation. A study by the Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA) in September 2018 revealed that there was inadequate social service delivery in the refugee host communities in Uganda which manifests itself into strained health care, inadequate clean and safe water, overcrowding in schools resulting into pressure on school facilities. The inadequacy of such services denies the women, girls and the children in the settlements their health and education rights.  It is estimated that children refugees are five times more likely to drop out of school than the other children. This does not only deny them a right to education but also increases their vulnerability to defilement, teenage pregnancies, child marriage and other forms of sexual violence.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 2 provides that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or another opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or another status. It is on this premise that I observe that we must protect human rights so diligently, more so for women and girls, so as to live harmoniously whether refugees or at home.





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