Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Uganda: " From the dole queue to the regiment a profession in a flash "

The Guardian reports

Five things they tell you about refugees that aren't true

New research from Oxford University contradicts popular assumptions about refugees' dependency and economic status

Congolese Refugees

Existing approaches to refugee assistance simply aren't working. That's the top line from our report, Refugee Economies: Rethinking Popular Assumptions, published for World Refugee Day today.

Hard to disagree with that. The problem I have is that assistance is not done on an equitable basis by the international community, by that I mean for example New Zealand my country and one of the richest nations on earth manage to re home some 750 refugees a year. The UN thinks that is a reasonable contribution and inline with the per capita efforts of other first world nations.

" More than 30,000 people have fled their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and crossed into neighbouring Uganda after a rebel group that had been hiding out in eastern Congo attacked a town.

Reuters  gives an update: 

The Uganda Red Cross Society said 66,000 Congolese refugees have so far crossed into the east African country since the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) started attacking the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo town of Kamangu on Thursday."

I think that any rational person would say that New Zealand is in a far better economic position than Uganda  when it comes to supporting refugees. New Zealand could take 7500 annually and with a population of four million plus we wouldn't really notice them. I suspect we could if we got organised and thought about ways and means we could actually manage 75,000 per year. Or put another way 750 refugees a year is a bloody pathetic effort. 

Around the world, crises in Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan continue to increase the number of displaced people inside and outside international borders. More than two-thirds of refugees are in protracted exile for at least five years, often in closed camps and without the right to work or move freely.

Most are in exile awaiting a return home or resettlement for about 18 years.

" The average length of stay in these states of virtual limbo is now approaching 20 years, up from an average of nine years in the early 1990s. Thus not only is a greater percentage of the world’s refugees in protracted exile than before but these situations are lasting longer."

Current approaches often fail to recognise that refugees have skills, talents and aspirations. Despite the constraints placed on people, vibrant economic systems often thrive below the radar, whether in the formal or informal economy.

That is so true. In my experience it is usually the informal economy, barter is an effective means of exchanging products and services and avoids the tax system. New Zealand is rather good in my opinion at integration, mind you we are hardly challenging ourselves with a refugee quota of 750 people.

In Uganda, where we've done our initial research, refugee policies are by no means perfect. But, unlike many other host states, it has a self-reliance strategy and allows refugees the right to work. We surveyed 1,600 refugees in Kampala and two rural refugee settlements to understand refugees' economic lives, including their engagement with the private sector and the ways in which they use technology. Our results challenge five myths about refugees.

Uganda is bloody amazing. I am not as readers will be aware a great fan of  Ugandan President Museveni but I take my hat off to Uganda and the efforts made by Uganda to deal with the flood of refugees that have engulfed Uganda. 

"These are refugees who... have lost touch with their countries of origin. Naturalization of these cases is one possible solution and discussions are underway in this direction," he said. "The naturalization of these refugees will mean their stay in Uganda will not be illegal. They will be Ugandans who are entitled to live and work in Uganda and have a productive life." 

Uganda has hundreds of thousands of refugees, we can give Uganda human rights shit for many reasons and we should.... but and it is not a small but, Uganda has taken the record for batting well above its weight on the refugee issue and puts the West to shame. Batting above our weight is something New Zealand takes pride in. Maybe Wellington should be talking to Kampala because this issue is far more important than a security council seat or for that matter rugby. Being the greatest rugby nation in the world is cool, it is a great aspiration, I support it. It is also utterly unimportant if New Zealand wants to remain relevant, lets bat above our weight on really important issues. Life is such an issue. 

1) Refugees are economically isolated

Refugee economies are part of complex systems that go beyond their communities and the boundaries of particular settlements. Refugees trade across nationality groups and across international borders. Maize grown in settlements is exported across borders to neighbouring countries. Congolese jewellery and textiles are imported from as far as India and China. Somali shops import tuna from Thailand, via the Middle East and Kenya.

Mustaqbal is an African funds transfer service. If you are sending money internationally well these guys kill all the others for honesty and competitiveness. Yup refugee communities got very sick of the thieving bastards such as Western Union and the 60% plus commission rates they charge.

2) Refugees are a burden on host states

Refugees make active contributions to the host economy. Many Ugandan business people acknowledge relying upon the presence of refugees. One fruit farmer told us: "It is hard to imagine Kyangwali's economy without the refugees' presence." Refugees buy and sell goods and services from and to Ugandan nationals. Many also create job opportunities for others, including by employing Ugandan nationals. In Kampala, 21% of the refugees surveyed employ others, and of those, 40% employ Ugandans.

Refugees are motivated. My kids have all been refugees in Kampala at different times, but of my four daughters two are at school ( and demanding I help them get after school and holiday work ) the other two are in tertiary education and have part time jobs. Or to put it another way the NZ Government is already getting a tax payment from two of my girls and by the end of this year I rather think all will pay some tax. Think about it... 160 years of collective productivity.
3) Refugees are economically homogenous

Although there are a range of traditional income-generating activities such as farming in rural areas and running shops and restaurants, we found huge diversity. In the settlements, we found Congolese cinemas, a Somali computer games parlour using recycled consoles and televisions and innovative businesses in areas such as transportation and maize milling that have scaled and often employ others. Even among farmers, income levels vary massively, with huge deviation around the mean of $29 per month.

To be honest I don't know what the point of the above paragraph is. Yes I understand that people find different places in the economic life of a nation but I fail to see that any nation would pigeon hole all refugees into the same economic positions. 
4) Refugees are technology illiterate

Many refugees use technology, including mobile phones and the internet, for income-generating activities, often at higher levels than the national population. In Kampala, 96% use mobile phones and 30% use them for money transfers as part of their primary livelihood strategy. Many refugees also adapt their own appropriate technologies, engaging in forms of "bottom-up innovation", often recycling whatever is available to create an entrepreneurial opportunity.

I am reasonably capable. My 16 year old daughter who I have had for three years longer than her three sisters just looks at me with great pity in her eyes and takes whatever technology I have and explains how it works.
5) Refugees are dependent on humanitarian assistance

Refugees are far from uniformly dependent on international assistance. Nearly all – 99% – of rural refugee households said they had at least some form of independent income-generating activity. When they were asked what kind of assistance they wanted, financial assistance did not come out top. Instead, opportunities for autonomy – including education, business training and resettlement – were valued highly.

They want what we have. I can see nothing wrong with that.

Hat Tip Rosebell"s Blog


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