It is important that refugees and host communities experience peaceful coexistence if they are to enjoy development.
As the situation stands in settlements of forced migrants in Uganda, various conflicts require building bridges of social cohesion.
This was stated by Dr Veneranda Mbabazi while presenting the findings and recommendations from a study titled, ‘Building bridges and creating social cohesion for harmonious co-existence between forced migrants and host com- munities in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, Yumbe district and Kiryandongo IDP Settlement in Kiryandongo district’.
The dissemination of this baseline study conducted by academicians of Makerere University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences took place on June 4, 2021, at the Central Teaching Facility 1. The study was funded by Makerere University Research and Innovation Fund (Mak-RIF).
MANY AND DYNAMIC
Mbabazi said the main conflicts are among the forced migrants themselves (both refugees and IDPs), more than between the migrants and the host communities. Conflicts are many and dynamic, including over access to land and other resources, access to social services, competition for jobs, and differences in cultural practices, beliefs and interests.
In Bidibidi, conflicts include ethnopolitical factors originating in South Sudan; resource-based conflicts, especially access to natural resources and the unclear terms of land use by refugees; economic conflicts due to poverty, lack of sources of income due to unemployment and lack of viable livelihoods; and social welfare/social services conflicts largely due to inadequate quantity and quality of services such as water, education, healthcare and housing; and the perception of inequitable distribution of some services.
Other conflicts arise from mental trauma suffered by refugee after experiencing traumatic events, lack of psychosocial support and mental treatment; information conflicts arising from absence of, or inadequate and untimely information available to refugees and host communities; and environment- based conflicts especially regarding firewood, construction materials and water sources.
In Kiryandongo, the study found more multifaceted conflict dynamics because of having many nationalities and ethnic identities among the refugees, the IDPs and host communities. Here live refugees from South Sudan, Ugandan IDPs displaced by landslides in Bugisu and those displaced by the Lord’s Resistance Army war from Acholi and Lango.
In Kiryandongo, it was found that refugees had led to a higher cost of living and a tilt in the balance of powers as some South Sudanese are richer than the indigenous communities. The refugees are buying a lot of land and other properties, which scares the poorer host communities.
Besides conducting a baseline survey in the districts of Yumbe and Kiryandon- go and producing a policy brief based
on the findings, the project trained local council leaders (LCs), Refugee Welfare Councils (RWCs) and 25 traditional and religious leaders in the two districts.
It also held validation and dissemination workshops in both districts and at Makerere University for the national-level stakeholders.
The study recommends that the principle of providing development aid/ relief should change from the current 70/30 in favour of refugees/IDPs to 50/50 so that the animosity expressed by host communities can die out.
Because of the many incidents of insecurity during day and night, the researchers recommended that government extends security operations in the settlements. In addition, coordination of programmes by different development partners should be strengthened to avoid duplication of resources and manpower.
Further, local leaders and stakeholders should be empowered to understand the importance of peaceful coexistence among all the communities. One approach to this would be identification of peace ambassadors in refugee and host communities and formation of peace clubs.
Provision of sustainable livelihoods to both forced migrants and host communities should be factored in programming strategies so as to reduce dependence on humanitarian aid and dispel the perception that refugees are given preferential treatment while excluding host communities. Hence more water points need to be opened and housing be increased.
Also, sustainable use of the environment needs to be emphasized, including the passage of bylaws to protect the environment.
The skills of host community members should be raised, so that they become more self-sufficient. The capacities of both communities in reconciliation, peacebuilding and respect for human rights need to be raised. Research into the history of the Nuer-Dinka ethnic conflicts should be encouraged to guide present programming.