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Factsheet October 1, 2019

Informing the Refugee Policy Response in Uganda: Results from the Uganda Refugee and Host Communities 2018 Household Survey

What is the report about and what is it expected to achieve?

“Informing the Refugee Policy Response in Uganda” assesses the living conditions of both refugees residing in the country, and the communities that host them. It is based on the 2018 Uganda Refugee and Host Communities Household Survey. The main objective of the report is to inform policy and programming for the national refugee and host communities’ response in Uganda. In addition, it is a collaboration between the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the Office of the Prime Minister and the World Bank.

What is the scope of the survey, and the methodology that was used?

The survey is representative of the refugee and host community population of Uganda at the national level. Moreover, it is representative of the refugee and host population in the regions of West Nile and South West, and the city of Kampala. The sample frame for hosts was the 2014 Population Census, while UBOS constructed a brand-new sample frame for refugees. A total of 221 sampling units were collocated among the different domains, and for each domain, a stratified random sample based on a systematic sampling approach. At the end, the survey collected data from a total of 2,200 households, in all hosting districts.

How is the continued influx impacting the sustainability of the current refugee policy?

Uganda currently hosts about 1.3 million refugees in 13 districts. The majority are from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda’s refugee policy is renowned for being progressive and generous and is a model to follow for countries facing a similar situation. The current framework offers many rights including freedom of movement, the right to work, the right to access public social services and access to land. The influx poses significant constraints on service from local governments in hosting areas, underlining the need for additional investments. This is particularly important to make service delivery sustainable in the long run, considering the high involvement of humanitarian organizations.

What are the key findings of the survey?

Refugees have similar rates of access to basic utilities and services compared to host communities. In some instances, such as with access to improved water, improved sanitation and electricity, refugees report more favorable access rates. In addition, health care centers are slightly more accessible to refugees, both financially and in terms of geographical proximity. These circumstances are partly due to the significant humanitarian response. Uganda's policy of providing education is leading to equitable school enrollment rates for primary school-age children. Refugees have enrolled their children to primary schools at a similar rate to that of hosts (65 and 68%, respectively). Nonetheless, completion rates and secondary enrollment rates are low for both populations but particularly for refugees.

Despite feeling secure and welcome, the refugee population in Uganda lives in precarious conditions, and their demographic characteristics make them particularly vulnerable. About half of the refugee population (48%) in the country are living in poverty, compared to 17% for hosts. Poverty among refugees is highest in the West Nile region where close to 60% of refugees are poor and around 30% of hosts are poor.  Food security remains a concern for both refugee and host households. 7 out of 10 refugee households experienced severe food insecurity, while 5 out of 10 host households experienced the same. The high dependency ratios of refugee households exacerbate the risks to wellbeing. Within refugees, there are about 1.7 dependent members for every non-dependent member, compared to 1.2 for hosts.

Refugees are younger than hosts. Around 56% of refugees are below the age of 15, and around 25% are younger than 5 years of age. This group represents a particularly vulnerable group that requires special attention, as the first years of life are essential to the formation of human capital. This underscores the importance of humanitarian help, particularly for recent refugees.

The entrepreneurial potential of refugees is apparent with one in five households owning a non-agricultural enterprise. Importantly, they are generating jobs for Ugandan nationals: in fact, about 1 in 5 employees of refugee enterprises were Ugandan nationals. This shows how the entrepreneurial endeavors of refugees can benefit hosts.

What are the major recommendations and potential outcome of this report?

  • Ensuring the self-reliance of refugees should be at the core of government policies and programs. Refugees in Uganda primarily depend on aid: about 54% report aid as their main source of income. Reliance on aid goes down for earlier cohorts: humanitarian assistance is the main source of income for 37% of refugees that arrived more than 5 years ago, while the same is true for 62% of recent refugees (arrived less than two years ago). This underlines the need to enhance the income-generating ability of refugees from the very beginning.
  • Enhancing agricultural productivity may increase the wellbeing of refugees and hosts and reduce dependency on humanitarian assistance. Both refugees and hosts rely on rain as the main water source, which causes high levels of vulnerability to weather shocks. Investment in water management and irrigation projects in these areas will not only increases self-reliance but can also help reduce the high levels of food insecurity observed.
  • Increasing off-farm income is also crucial for a sustainable response. Refugees are an untapped source of labor: around 72% of refugees are unemployed, compared to 36% for hosts. Moreover, 9 out of 10 refugees have never participated in a skills and job training program. This calls for innovative solutions including skills formation and training, cooperative initiatives, and promoting the demand for labor supply in non-agricultural activities.
  • Skills formation and training of unemployed refugees should consider their characteristics in terms of education, occupational background, and access to land. Program or policies with the aim of activating them into the labor market should consider that unemployed refugees are young (average of 25 years old), have low levels of education (70% of them have no formal education or have some years of primary education but did not finish), and that the large majority used to work in agriculture (45%) and services and sales (22.7%).
  • Investing in access to basic services in host communities will contribute to their development and peaceful coexistence of both populations. The service delivery demands to local governments in hosting areas evidence the need for additional investments. This is particularly important to make this service delivery sustainable in the long run, considering the high involvement of humanitarian organizations.
  • Social groups and associations represent a tool in implementing refugee programs and initiatives, outside Kampala. Around 13% of refugees participate in agricultural (or livestock) associations, 14% in savings groups and 9% in women’s associations. These associations can play an important role in implementing refugee programs and can promote the socio-economic integration of refugees into their host communities.