Uganda has been hosting refugees in East Africa since the 1940s. The number of refugees and asylum seekers increased dramatically beginning around 2016, when hundreds of thousands of people, mostly from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, fled their countries due to political and social economic instability.

Uganda remains one of the largest refugee host countries in the world

The number of refugees peaked at 1,573,291 million near the end of 2021, but by the end of 2022, the number had dropped to 1,495,638 million due to voluntary return, primarily of Burundian refugees, and other refugees being resettled in third countries. Despite being an Least Developed Country, Uganda continues to open its borders to refugees, who make up nearly 4% of the Ugandan population. Uganda is well-known around the world for its progressive refugee policies, which are domesticated through integration into the country’s development plans. However, much of the actual funding for the refugee response is still heavily reliant on foreign contributions.
Uganda and other neighbouring countries have many refugees due to ongoing conflicts and internal crises. New refugees enter Uganda seeking safety and a better life. As of 2021, the largest group was South Sudanese (1,027,359), followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (319,509) and others (226,423). Most South Sudanese and DRC refugees are fleeing escalating wars. Famine and natural disasters like Congo’s volcanic eruption and South Sudan’s drought have also caused displacements. South Sudanese refugees live in Adjumani, Palabek, Kiryandongo, and other West Nile settlements, while Congolese refugees live in Kyangwali, Kyaka II, and Nakivale. As previously stated, the refugee population grew gradually from a few tens of thousands, estimated at around 200,000 in 2000, to more than 1.3 million by 2019, and slightly more than 1.5 million by 2021. 
(Source: UNHCR)


From fragile conditions to a new environment

Uganda receives most refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of Africa’s largest countries, has long struggled with internal conflict, particularly in its underdeveloped east. This region is rich in natural resources and vastly undeveloped, attracting many insurgent groups from within and outside the country. South Sudan, which only gained independence in 2011, has yet to reap the benefits of self-rule after years of marginalization and exclusion from mainstream political and economic domains. Poor governance, internal rebellion, and insecurity have plagued the country. Women, children, and youth make up nearly 80% of refugees who have lost their livelihoods, including education, due to the ongoing conflicts. These people rarely know English, Uganda’s official language. Refugees struggle to communicate and manage their daily lives. Without a local language and social safety nets, women and children in foreign countries are vulnerable to exploitation and often struggle to make a living due to a lack of education and a language barrier that prevents them from using their skills.
Uganda’s refugee policy has long been regarded as exceptional. Despite the fact that a large number of refugees enter the country each year, the Ugandan government maintains open borders and has guaranteed refugees the same rights and universal access to basic services as Ugandans, with the exception of the right to vote. Refugees have the freedom to move and the right to live outside of designated refugee settlements, though this may entail foregoing some of the benefits that they would receive if they lived in designated refugee settlements. Refugees have easy access to education and healthcare. They are also permitted to work and establish businesses, but they are not permitted to own land. Upon arrival in the country, all refugees living in the settlements are given a small plot of land on which to build a house and grow vegetables on a small scale, such as in backyard gardens.
However, with the increasing number of refugees arriving in Uganda, plot sizes have progressively decreased, making it extremely difficult to access land to grow food. The Prime Minister’s Office, in collaboration with UNHCR, and with the support of local leaders, continues to lobby host communities to provide more land for refugees to settle and grow food. However, due to increasing pressure on the land, all refugee hosting communities have seen increased depletion of the natural environment and competition for available resources and services, resulting in deterioration of inter-group relations. FRC purposefully ensures that all its programmes offer services to both refugees and host communities for this reason, as well as many other factors aimed at maintaining good relations between refugees and host communities.

Finnish Refugee Council’s activities in Uganda

FRC has been operating in Uganda since 1997, and currently supports refugees in 13 different settlements in the country’s northern, western, and southwestern regions. The Finnish Refugee Council is the only international organisation in Uganda that offers specialised adult education programmes for refugees. One of the advantages of adult education is that when adult learners recognise the value of literacy, language, and other life skills, it is easier for them to understand the need and support the education of the rest of their family members.
FRC has a working agreement with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), the Ugandan Government body in charge of refugee matters, and has been an operational partner to UNHCR since 1998. The FRC programme contributes to the Uganda National Action Plan for the Implementation of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and the UNHCR Uganda Protection and Durable Solutions Strategy (PDSS) by increasing the self-reliance and resilience of refugees and host communities.
FRC-supported and implemented trainings equip refugees with the tools and skills they need to manage their own lives, reclaim their personal agency, and increase their income levels. Locals are also given FRC training to foster peaceful coexistence between refugees and host communities.
In all its projects, the Finnish Refugee Council is dedicated to advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Read more about the SDG’s that guide our work and activities.



FRC’s operations in Uganda can be divided into three categories:

1. Adult education for human rights (literacy, language, business, financial literacy, VSLA, digital literacy, life skills)
The overall objective of all FRC projects: In refugee settlements people uprooted from their homes by conflict, violence, persecution, discrimination, poverty and climate change, and host communities in protracted refugee crisis in Uganda, live in dignity and peace to build a secure future as contributing members of the community where they live. The adult education project specifically aims to improve self-reliance and resilience among adults and youth from refugee and host communities, including PWDs, through adult education.
2. Livelihood and income generation through climate and environmental actions
FRC aims to improve the capacity and knowledge of refugees and host communities to improve their economic opportunities while combating climate change; community members are organized into groups based on common interests and given various skills ranging from modern farming agricultural skills to environmental conversation and income generation for both on and off farm enterprises. The trainings emphasise climate smartness and the use of improved and easily replicable technologies to grow sufficient food for household consumption as well as for sale to supplement other household needs.

3. Civic training and actions for social cohesion
FRC helps targeted refugee and host communities resolve inter- and intra-community conflicts peacefully and gain access to justice. This project is being implemented in collaboration with the Justice and Reconciliation Project, a partner that takes the lead in providing community peace building interventions by assisting peace committees and community structures in engaging in dialogue about common community issues to strengthen relationships. Meanwhile, FRC provides capacity building trainings to community leaders on a variety of topics addressing civic empowerment, after which they assist community structures in delivering peace building, peaceful coexistence, and social cohesion interventions.

Project Summaries

Connecting Refugees and Ugandans for Social Cohesion

The goal of the project is to contribute to a peaceful and safe co-existence within the refugee-hosting district in Northern Uganda.  The project aims to enhance the capacity and knowledge of refugees and host communities to access their rights and fulfil their legal obligations in selected refugee settlements and nearby host areas in Adjumani. The Social Cohesion project engages the local community leaders at the grassroots in a selected few refugee settlements and their nearby host-community counterparts in strengthening their capacities and knowledge in leadership skills and civic matters such as human rights, democracy, law and order, and governance. In addition, the project trains and supports local-level Peace Committee members in peace and conflict resolution approaches, case management, and access to the justice system.    
The project is being implemented in 4 refugee settlements in Adjumani district, Northern Uganda hosting South Sudanese refugees. 
Duration: 3 years
Start Date: October 2022
Budget: EUR 493 000
Type/Sector: Conflict management / Social cohesion / Democracy, rights and governance
Donor: Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland 
SDG logo with text: Quality education
SDG logo with text: 10 reduced inequaities
SDG logo with text: 16 Peace, justice and strong insitutions

Scale-up of Financial Literacy Training for Refugees

The aim is to provide refugees, who receive cash-based assistance, with basic financial management skills such as simple budgeting, saving practices and use of available financial services. In addition, the project encourages refugees to include all at the household level for financial planning and hence contributing to family harmony and gender balance. Through financial skills, the refugees are also encouraged to start income-generating ventures. The training is delivered during few hour sessions three times a week over a 6-week period. 

The project covers all 13 refugee settlements in Uganda for those refugee households to whom World Food Program (WFP) provides food assistance through cash-based transfer. 
The project has been running since 2020 and by May 2023 targets to reach 590,000 refugees. 

Type/Sector: Humanitarian assistance / livelihoods / adult education 
Donor: World Food Programme


Text with red background: No poverty
SDG logo with text: Quality education
SDG logo with text: 8 Decent work and economic growth

Access to Adult Education

The project goal: Adults and youth from refugee and host communities, including persons with disability, have improved self-reliance and resilience.   
The project is implemented in 10 refugee settlements of Nakivale, Orucinga, Kyangwali, Kyaka II, Ayilo I, Ayilo II, Nyumanzi, Pagirinya, Palabek and Kiryandongo located in 6 refugee hosting districts in the Northern and Southern regions of Uganda.  
The project targets to have 21 510 adults and out-of-school youth trained in different basic adult courses; literacy using various local languages, English languages, business skills and life skills. All the trainings are functional and building the capacity of participants to address their real-life challenges. The courses are locally arranged for village level groups meeting 3 times a week, and course duration varies from few weeks to 11 months. 
Additionally, the project will train and engage annually about 300 refugees and 50 Ugandans as an instructor/facilitators of the course. Some 300 local leaders annually are instrumental in advocating for these adult education courses in their communities.  For purposes of inclusion, the project targets to have 70% of its participants as women and 5% as people living with a disability. 
Budget: EUR 3,425,000
Duration: 4 years
Start date: January 2022
Type/Sector: Development / Adult education / Jobs and Livelihoods   
Donor: Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland 
Text with red background: No poverty
SDG logo with text: Quality education
SDG logo with text: 8 Decent work and economic growth

Extended financial literacy training for refugees

The project aims are to provide basic financial management skills such as simple budgeting, savings practices, and the use of available financial services for refugees receiving cash. The project also encourages refugees to involve all family members in financial planning, thus promoting family harmony and gender equality. Financial skills will also be used to encourage refugees to set up their own businesses. The training will take place in few hour sessions, three times a week for six weeks. 
The project will be implemented in 12 refugee settlements and three host communities, targeting households to which the World Food Programme (WFP) provides food aid in the form of cash transfers. 
The project will run until 2024 and aims to reach 83,751 households in refugee settlements and host communities. 
Type/Sector: Humanitarian aid / Disability income / Adult education
Donor: World Food Programme WFP 

Improved Economic Opportunity through Climate-Smart Agriculture

The project lasts 4 years with the aim of enhancing the capacity and knowledge of refugees and host communities to improve their economic opportunities while mitigating climate change. 
The project is implemented in six refugee settlements: Kyangwali in Kikuube district and Ayilo1, Ayilo2, Olua1, Olua2 & Pagirinya in Adjumani district.
The implementation approach used by the project involves using existing agriculture groups among refugees and nearby host community. The groups are supported to design their own 2–3-year development plan and they are given tailored support in climate-smart agricultural production and management in line with their development plans.
The project is being implemented in 2 phases (i.e., phase 1 runs from 2022-2023, while phase 2 will run from 2024-2025). In each phase of the project, a total of 60 Agriculture Common Interest Groups (an average of 30 members per group) and a population of 1,800 refugees and Ugandan nationals are targeted. 
For inclusivity, 70% of total participants will be from vulnerable groups like women, youth and people living with disability.
Key project activities include; creating awareness on climate change and environmental protection, conducting capacity building trainings and mentorships on climate-smart agriculture technologies and practices, establishing and management of crop and livestock enterprises according to the group development plans and enterprise appraisals, tree growing and promoting financial inclusion through trainings and mentorships on Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) methodology.
Budget: EUR 770 000  
Duration: 4 years
Start date: January 2022
Donor: Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland 
Text with red background: No poverty
SDG logo with text: Quality education
SDG logo with text: 8 Decent work and economic growth

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Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, With support from Finland's development cooperation