Employers in Uganda seek to expand services to the refugees hosting areas

The Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE) is looking at opportunities to extend their services to the refugee-hosting disricts of Isingiro and Arua.

News | 01 April 2020
Uganda, with an annual per capita income of US$ 666, is home to more refugees than any other country in Africa and has the fourth-largest refugee population in the world, after Turkey, Lebanon and Pakistan. More than one million of its estimated 1.5 million refugees have arrived within the past three years.

The “Uganda model” permits refugees to work, cultivate land, and move around freely. Refugees also have access to government-provided health care and primary education. The Ugandan Government endorses the idea that the country benefits from empowering refugees. By giving them the right to employment and to contribute to enterprises, and thanks to the freedom movement, economic interactions are flourishing and more profitable. Even in the most remote parts of northwest Uganda, settlements host vibrant markets where refugees can sell what they were able to grow on their small but fertile government-provided plots of land.

By providing economic incentives and better services to the local communities around the refugee settlements, such as improved infrastructures, access to microfinance, to training and education etc., the competitive tensions that normally arise gradually began to ease. Aligning the interests of host communities with those of newcomers proves to be a promising solution bringing peaceful economic activity.

The Ugandan example has been very instructive. As a matter of fact, incentive mechanisms were created by acknowledging the similarities of host communities’ and refugees’ requirements to build livelihoods. When local communities are simply presented with plans for new settlements or important influx of refugees to their area, they unsurprisingly express concern over their integration and the capacity of their community to integrate them. The lack of proposed joint prospects often leads to negative predispositions. They anticipate increasing pressures on existing services and infrastructure, as well new competition for jobs and business opportunities.

By contrast, when they are told that new roads and new hospitals will be constructed and that new training opportunities and new markets will be offered, host communities perceive it as a different proposition.

This approach is fully supported by Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE)  who have been heavily involved in the policy space in the districts of concern, namely Isingiro and Arua. They also see it as an opportunity for them to expand their footprint in the north western and western parts of the country.

Douglas Opio, Executive Director of the Employers Federation in Uganda, during a consultative visit to UNHCR Offices in Arua District

The ILO, under the umbrella of the PROSPECTS Partnership, is working closely with the FUE to help them extend membership in these regions. It can be done by developing partnerships with chambers of commerce and other organizations representing the private sector. There will be many opportunities for close collaboration with the private sector, such as provision of training, skills development, enterprise creation schemes and wider policy cohesion for more engagement with the State authorities.

In the framework of the Partnership, the FUE is currently running a survey to assess available opportunities to extend their services to Arua and Isingiro districts. The study will also access the capacity of businesses to expand and create job opportunities for refugees and host communities.
Douglas Opio, Executive Director of the Employers Federation in Uganda, during a consultative visit with local Traders in Rhino Camp, a refugee settlement in Arua, Uganda
According to FUE Manager for Policy and Research Manager, Mr. Dan Okonya, data collection from the field was concluded two weeks ago. Data analysis and key informative interviews will continue despite the difficult conditions and lockdown due to the COVID-19. He was optimistic that the findings would provide reliable entry points for them to serve refugees and host communities better.

FUE Executive Director, Mr. Douglas Opio, added that the study would provide them with evidence on what opportunities exist in these areas to extend their services. “We have not had any interactions with employers in places like Arua. This study will provide us with information on employers to target, expand our membership and create more economic opportunities for refugees and host communities in these areas,” he explains.

An employee of Arua district farmers association supporting with the assessment