The East African state of Uganda has been hosting high numbers of refugees since the 1960s. The number of refugees has, however, increased dramatically in the last three years as hundreds of thousands of people from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have fled to Uganda.

Uganda is one of the largest host countries of refugees

Uganda hosts the third largest number of refugees out of all countries in the world. Uganda hosts 1.4 million refugees (2019), despite being among the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) of the world.
The conflicts and internal crises in neighbouring states of Uganda are reflected in the number of refugees arriving in Uganda. New refugees are constantly crossing the border as a result of the prolonged conflict in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other neighbouring countries. Most of the refugees in Uganda are South Sudanese, who already amount to over 861,000 people.
With the escalation of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the number of people crossing the border into Uganda has increased many-fold, and there are now over 397,000 Congolese refugees in the country. The refugee settlements of Kyangwali and Kyaka II near the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo earlier only had some tens of thousands of refugees, but at the turn of 2019–2020, the number of inhabitants had increased to nearly 120,000 in each settlement.
(Source: UNHCR)

From fragile conditions to a new environment

Internal displacement is widespread in the neighbouring countries, and the refugees arriving in Uganda have often been living away from their homes or in the midst of violence for years. Many of the refugees arriving in Uganda are women who have never had the opportunity to go to school or have only received a few years of education. They are often virtually illiterate and without knowledge of the English language, which is the official language of Uganda. Communicating with locals and managing daily affairs is therefore very difficult to them. Women and children living in a foreign environment – without knowledge of the local language and without social safety nets – are vulnerable to exploitation and often struggle to make a living due to lack of education.
Uganda’s refugee policy has for long been exceptional. Although there are huge numbers of refugees entering the country, the Ugandan government has guaranteed refugees the same rights and universal services available to Ugandans, except for the right to vote. Refugees have the freedom of movement and the right to live outside official refugee settlements. Even education and healthcare are free for refugees. Refugees are also allowed to work, set up businesses and own land. In the older refugee settlements, all refugee families have received a plot of land from the state for cultivation.
As the number of refugees arriving in Uganda has continued to grow, not everyone has any longer received any land and have had to be settled on the lands of local communities. In areas where refugees can still receive their own land, the area allocated to them has had to be halved due to the increase in the number of new arrivals, meaning that farming can no longer provide a decent living for many families. The increasing pressure on land use and public services has resulted some deterioration in inter-group relations, which FRC strives to mitigate by also directing support to the host communities.

Finnish Refugee Council’s activities in Uganda

The majority of refugees in Uganda live in dedicated refugee settlements, but an increasing number of refugees choose to remain in cities. FRC has operated in Uganda since 1997, and currently supports refugees in 12 different settlements in the northern and western regions of the country, as well as urban refugees in Uganda’s capital Kampala.

Finnish Refugee Council is the only international organisation in Uganda specialising in adult education for refugees. Having learnt the benefits of literacy and education, it is also easier for adults to understand and support the education of the rest of their family members.

The training supported and implemented by FRC provides refugees with the means and skills to manage their own lives and regain their personal agency, as well as raise their income levels immediately. In addition to refugees, training is also provided to locals so as not to create conflicts within the community. FRC’s operations in Uganda can be divided into three categories:

1. Adult education and functional literacy for adults
When it comes to education for refugees, it must be remembered that many adults have not received any basic education in their childhood, and therefore do not possess literacy skills. FRC offers functional literacy courses in refugees’ first languages as well as in English, allowing refugees to develop their self-sufficiency and independence. Literacy is learnt and practiced through themes that also improve refugees’ everyday lives: issues covered may for instance include nutrition, hygiene, sanitation or the environment. Courses are facilitated by volunteer peer tutors, and the majority of participants are women.
2. Livelihood and business training
FRC organises training in numeracy, entrepreneurship, and forming and managing informal credit unions. In addition, FRC offers active support, mentoring and supervision of the union member’s own income-generating activities and facilitates the formation of credit unions within communities. Credit unions allow their members to borrow money for everyday activities, such as purchasing school uniforms for children, or to support their livelihood, such as setting up a small business. Women, especially mothers responsible for providing for their families, are the primary target group of FRC’s livelihood training.
3. Support for young people and civil society
FRC pays special attention to supporting young people in their education and income-generating activities. The participation of young people is supported for example through accommodating the needs and wishes of young people in FRC’s activities. FRC also maintains a youth centre in the Nakivale refugee settlement which is available for youth groups and associations’ formal and leisure activities. In addition to supporting youth groups, FRC supports a variety of refugee organisations and associations in Kampala by training and mentoring their active members. Supporting refugees’ own organisations promotes their active participation in society and facilitates peer support.
+256 0393 266 642
Plot 8284 Tomusange Close, Muyenga 
P. O. Box 24526 Kampala
Country Director Tarja Saarela-Kaonga
tarja.saarela-kaonga (at)
+256 0772 722 460