UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (2nd from left), Uganda’s Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa (left) and other dignitaries at the arrival of the UN chief in Kampala on Wednesday / Photo: TU

World leaders gather in Uganda for first international refugee summit

UN Secretary General António Guterres declares open the first World Solidarity Summit on Refugees on Thursday in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. Among the heads of state and about 500 dignitaries attending include Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Guinean President and Chairman of the African Union, Alpha Condé, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, Gabonese President Ali Bongo, Zambian President Edgar Lungu and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Beside pledging to raise money for the refugees, the dignitaries will embark on a field visit to refugee-hosting districts and refugee settlements around the country to meet with, and appreciate their living conditions.

The host communities are in 12 districts including Adjumani, Arua, Kampala, Nakivale and Mbarara.

More than 1.3 million refugees crossed into Uganda from South Sudan since the start of the conflict in the world’s newest country in December 2013 with a daily average of 2000 refugees. The figure is three times higher than the number of refugees who crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe last year, Mr. Guterres said, adding that Uganda not only provides protection but land for the refugees to empower them to be economically self-reliant.

More than 1.3 million South Sudanese refugees have crossed into Uganda from South Sudan since the start of the conflict in December 2013 / © UNCHR

The government and the United Nations spent $150 million each to cater for the refugees in 2016. This amount was highly inadequate, aid groups say. Uganda hopes to raise $2 billion in donations at the conference to help fund relief operations for refugees. Uganda remains the second largest refugee hosting country globally after Turkey.

Guterres, who was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for a decade prior his election as UN Secretary General,  said on World Refugee Day on Tuesday that it was worrying that 80 per cent of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries with “a dramatic impact” on their economy, society and security. The World Refugee Day is observed on 20th June every year to honor the strength and determination of migrants who flee their motherland due to conflict, fear of persecution, famine and violence.

In contrast, the UN chief had sharp words for developed countries not doing enough to provide support for refugees or take them in despite heart breaking pleas for food, water and other basics.

He urged governments to increase their resettlement quotas and protect asylum seekers and people who deserve protection. He also appealed to the international community to seek political solutions to world’s conflicts, which have produced a record 65.6 million refugees, and to fund humanitarian aid work.

Dennis Keino

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