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Refugee Response Teams Asked to Focus on Environmental Conservation

The call was made after the number of refugees at Palabek Refugee Settlement in Lamwo district surpassed its standard capacity of 60,000 refugees. The settlement, which was opened in 2017, sits on a 50-square-mile piece of land donated by host communities in Palabek Gem and Palabek Ogili Sub counties.
25 Jun 2022 14:05
Lamwo Resident District Commissioner Osborn Oceng has asked development partners to integrate environmental conservation into their programs as more refugees continue to come to the district.

The call was made after the number of refugees at Palabek Refugee Settlement in Lamwo district surpassed its standard capacity of 60,000 refugees. The settlement, which was opened in 2017, sits on a 50-square-mile piece of land donated by host communities in Palabek Gem and Palabek Ogili Sub counties.

It was initially designed to accommodate 40,000 refugees. However, its capacity was increased after the Office of the Prime Minister secured more land and the population target was adjusted to 60,000, which was hit in November 2021.

Felicitas Nebril, the head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees- UNHCR sub-office in Lamwo and Adjumani districts, says that the district now hosts more than 67,000 refugees, which constitutes approximately 32 percent of the total refugee population in Uganda.

Early this week, the Uganda Refugee Response Partners, said up to 62,000 refugees have entered Uganda since the beginning of the year fleeing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Uganda and South Sudan.

Renewed conflict that broke out in Eastern Congo, at the end of March, is said to have led to the displacement of 30,000 of its citizens into Uganda, while there have been over 18,000 new arrivals from South Sudan since January.   This is on top of an additional 1.5 million refugees already hosted in the local communities across the country.

As the number of refugees keeps rising, the demand for land for settlement as well as pressure on trees for wood fuel and construction also increases.  The partners say that the growing refugee population serves as a reminder that we must find long-term solutions to the world's conflicts and assist countries grappling with the refugee crisis.

"The refugee response in Uganda remains critically underfunded and its open-door policy, which is one of the most progressive in the world, that permits refugees to work, cultivate the land, and move around freely, is under threat," says Jean-Christophe Saint-Esteben, the Chairperson of the Refugee INGO Forum.

Osborn Oceng, the RDC of Lamwo explains that the refugee response partners need to incorporate environmental conservation on their programs, as pressure on existing trees increase with rise in number of refugees. He says that although many of the partners have put a lot of focus on psychosocial support, the influx presents even more pressure on the environment.

There are more than 30 organisations who registered in Lamwo district to provide services to refugee in Palabek Settlement, but only two known to have components of environmental protection in their agenda. The rest are mainly offering education, livelihood and psychosocial support services.

Ocen said protecting the environment is one way of ensuring that the refugees continue to use the land to produce own crops and improve their livelihood, amid dwindling food aid. “We need to groom these areas. Environmental protection is key, because it will enable refugees to continue using the small land they have to do productive cultivation,” Oceng said.

Phoebe Akullu, the acting commandant of Palabek Settlement, agreed that there is need for partners to interlink all their services so that all of them are functional for a sustained livelihood of the refugees. “We understand the population is growing bigger. So, let’s look into issues of livelihood because if we don’t create resilience through livelihood, we won’t have other sectors functional,” Akullu said.

State Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Esther Anyakun recently said that the pressure on the environment, on forests and wetlands in refugee-hosting districts, is particularly telling, and all must be done to support tree planting and wetland regeneration efforts, while at the same time providing alternative sources of clean energy for use by refugees and host communities.

UNHCR and the National Forestry Authority (NFA), have so far distributed 1.5 million ornamental and fruit tree seedlings to refugees and host communities for planting. The goal is to plant 5.3 million trees this year.