Towards a more comprehensive refugee response

Despite the challenges generated by the new influx from South Sudan, Uganda maintains one of the most progressive policies to refugee protection. With an open-door policy, the Government upholds an inclusive approach, granting refugees freedom of movement, the right to seek employment and establish businesses, and access public services such as education, on par with nationals. Owing to this, Uganda is regarded as a model for many other refugee-hosting countries.

Refugees in Uganda do not live in camps. In line with Uganda’s settlement approach – which the Government pledged to continue at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees on 20 September 2016 in New York - , refugee families receive plots of land on which to live and farm. The Government has set aside many thousands of hectares of land for refugee use, and more have been provided by local communities. Most refugees live across twenty-one settlements in the West Nile, Mid-Western and South Western parts of the country.

To ease pressure on local services and leverage the positive economic impact of refugees, Uganda has integrated refugees into national development plans. Likewise, it has established the Settlement Transformative Agenda (STA), which supports the development of refugee-hosting districts by investing in infrastructure, livelihoods, peaceful coexistence initiatives and environmental protection. The STA takes into account the protracted nature of displacement and their impact on local communities. It is also in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the principle to “leave no one behind”.

CRRF Strategic roll-out

The Office of the Prime Minister and UNHCR launched the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) on 24 March 2017, adapting the principles and objectives set out in Annex I of the New York Declaration to the Ugandan context. These objectives are to:

  • Maintain and support Uganda’s progressive policy towards refugees, and protect asylum space;
  • Support the resilience and self-reliance of refugees and host communities;
  • Expand solutions for refugees, including third country options.
  • Support Uganda’s role in the region and invest in human capital and transferrable skills.

The CRRF in Uganda addresses five mutually-reinforcing themes: admission and rights; emergency response and ongoing needs; resilience and self-reliance of refugees; and expansion of solutions through resettlement and alternative pathways such as scholarships and work placements abroad, and, finally, voluntary repatriation which in the current situation focuses on investment in human capital and transferrable skills.

Through the application of CRRF, Uganda seeks to create a more predictable and sustainable approach to refugee management, respond more efficiently to the refugee emergency, and accelerate the implementation of the Refugee and Host Population Empowerment (ReHoPE) strategy.

Drawing on the fundamental rights of refugees enshrined in national and international refugee laws, the application of a CRRF in Uganda seeks to safeguard and protect refugee rights, including access to territory and the principle of non-refoulement, and to boost the response to the ongoing influx of refugees, including through the delivery of humanitarian assistance and support to local communities and governments. A prime example is the South Sudan refugee response in the West Nile region, coordinated by UNHCR through a model for coordinated refugee response.

ReHoPE provides a national framework for integrated and holistic support to refugees and host populations; it was incorporated into the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) in 2016. The refugee response and ReHoPE represent key building blocks to realize the CRRF in Uganda, making refugees part and parcel of the development agenda. In keeping with the spirit of the New York Declaration, ReHoPE helps to enhance peaceful coexistence between refugees and Ugandans and to protect asylum space and helps equip refugees with skills and knowledge to rebuild their countries when peace returns.


The World Bank has approved a US$50 million loan to help Uganda invest in the socio-economic development of refugee-hosting districts. The Bank is also considering Uganda as a recipient of the IDA-18 regional sub-window for refugees and host communities, which aims to support low-income countries to deliver services to refugees and the communities that host them.

ReHoPE is the World Bank’s and United Nations’ contribution to the implementation of the Government’s Settlement Transformation Agenda (STA). Under this programme, humanitarian and development actors, together with the private sector, work together to support the Government to deliver socio-economic progress in refugee-hosting areas.

An online Refugee Response Portal has been launched to support coordination among partners and to make information about the refugee response in Uganda available in a reliable and predictable manner. The portal contains a specific section on CRRF and can be found here:

Way forward

The CRRF was officially launched by the Office of the Prime Minister. A multi-stakeholder Secretariat was set up - it is the first ever Government-led forum bringing together humanitarian and development actors, local government and authorities, and the private sector, to engage and provide guidance on refugee matters.

As part of its responsibilities, the Secretariat mobilises support from humanitarian and development actors, including civil society and the private sector. It will also document lessons-learned from the Uganda refugee context to inform relevant global, regional and national initiatives, including the development of a global compact for refugees in 2018. The CRRF Secretariat will also follow up on the commitments made at the Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees, which will take place on June 22 and 23 in Kampala.

Key challenges

The refugee response is chronically underfunded. Without more support from the international community, and investments by existing and new partners, Uganda’s ability to fully realize this exemplary model is at risk. On June 22nd and 23rd 2017, the President of Uganda and the UN Secretary-General, with the support of UNHCR and the UN family in Uganda, will co-chair a Solidarity Summit on Refugees.

The objective of the high-level Summit – called “Translating New York Declaration commitments into Action” - is to mobilize international support and new funding to accelerate implementation of the CRRF. Find out more about the Solidarity Summit on this website.

Operational and funding needs to deliver on a comprehensive response

  1. Support towards more sustainable responses in cases of emergency, including early engagement of development actors. The ongoing influx from South Sudan offers a timely opportunity to test this early engagement and harvest lessons from early harmonized efforts between humanitarian and development actors from the first stages of an emergency.
  2. Resettlement: The projected resettlement needs for 2017 for refugees in Uganda are 16,500 persons.
  3. Complementary pathways: UNHCR asks third-country governments – in cooperation and with the support of other stakeholders, such as the private sector, civil society and diaspora organizations - to establish and expand complementary pathways for refugees living in CRRF pilot countries. These pathways may include expanded family reunification and family-based mobility; labour mobility schemes; scholarships and education programmes; and regional mobility schemes. (Note: implementation of such pathways necessitates certain facilitative administrative measures, as well as protection safeguards. UNHCR may support States with technical advice in these areas.) UNHCR can provide more information on the needs relating to complementary pathways.
  4. Greater support for broad involvement of government offices including line ministries, district authorities and host populations in the strategic roll-out of CRRF.
  5. Greater coherence and rationalization of NGO and UN Agency support to the CRRF Secretariat, for maximum efficiency.
  6. Need for expanded private sector and civil society partnerships to encourage the integration of innovative approaches in refugee responses.
  7. Funding: the Operating Plan for the refugee response in 2017 is US$500.7 million; this plan is currently only 15 per cent funded. Another funding strand that is severely underfunded is the Uganda section of the South Sudan emergency response appeal, which is only 17 per cent funded. UNHCR received a list of ReHoPE projects amounting to US$42 million to be considered for funding. NB: We will soon be in a position to provide official figures for the entire funding requirements from UN and other actors for ReHoPE.


[1] As at end 2015, source: World Bank