Kampala, Uganda — Calls for countries in the East and Horn of Africa to address the needs of the millions of displaced people in the region came Tuesday at the start of a four-day ministerial conference being held by the Inter-governmental authority (IGAD) in the Ugandan capital.
Hilary Onek, Uganda’s Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, called on ministers to examine and address the wide range of factors that are forcing people from their homes. These factors, he said, include not only material issues but political ones.
“Some governments don’t tolerate opposition. And they clamp down on them and these people run to exile. Tribal intolerance. Like in Congo here there’s Lendu against the Hema group killing each other, and some are forced to flee their home. Those are the challenges of intolerance I’m talking about. And most of them are driven by ignorance,” Onek said.
Limited funding has been cited as one of the major challenges in handling the refugee crisis in the East and Horn of Africa. Uganda is currently hosting more than 1.5 million refugees, the largest population in Africa. Other refugee-hosting countries include Ethiopia with more than 830,000 refugees and Kenya, which has 560,000.
Matthew Crentsil, the UNHCR Country representative, says all these countries have single, unsustainable funding sources while their refugee burdens continue to grow. Crentsil said it is time for countries hosting refugees to look at expanding domestic and internal sourcing of funds, such as engaging the private sector.
“There should also be other means of supporting refugees,” he said. “It doesn’t pay at all keeping refugees in settlements and camps for years and feeding them for years. That is why we are advocating for an increase in livelihood opportunities and activities for refugees in the region.”
In October 2021, a military coup destabilized Sudan, which is already home to 1.1 million refugees. The majority of those refugees are from South Sudan, followed by Eritrea and Syria.
As efforts continue in different parts of the world to bring an end to the conflict in Sudan, Osman AbdulRahman, the deputy Ambassador of Sudan to Uganda, told VOA he hopes the meeting will also find solutions to contribute to peace in his country.
“This humanitarian situation right now is going to threaten even the region and the entire world unless we do something right now to stop this war,” he said. “And to have peace talks between all elements in Sudan and our partners as well.”
The UNHCR says the East and Horn of Africa is home to 5.5 million refugees, out of which 2.5 million are from South Sudan.
The conference in Kampala comes as the United Nations marks World Refugee Day on June 20, with “Hope away from home” as this year’s theme.