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 1.45 million refugees (2021), 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.

In Uganda FRC has an agreement with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), the Ugandan Government body in charge of refugee matters and works as an Operational Partner to UNHCR since the year 1998. FRC’s programme contributes to the Uganda National  Action Plan for implementation of Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and  UNHCR Uganda Protection and Durable Solutions Strategy (PDSS) as it enhances refugee’s and host communities’  self-reliance and resilience.

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. Read Furaha’s story on participating in the Financial Literature Training.

Finnish Refugee Council is committed to supporting the realization of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in all its projects. Read more about the SDG’s that guide our work and activities.

FRC’s operations in Uganda can be divided into two 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.

Project Summaries

Adult Education in Refugee Settlements and in Urban Kampala, Uganda

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The project goal is; Through acquisition and use of functional literacy and language skills the adult – especially women – and youth refugees and Ugandans living nearby settlements have improved their self-reliance and resilience. This contributes to the improvement of the resilience of and social cohesion within and between the most vulnerable groups in protracted refugee crises.

Project is located in 12 refugee settlements in the South West and North, and Kampala capital city area namely in Ayilo I, Ayilo II, Nyumanzi, Pagirinya, Boroli, Olua I and II in Adjumani District, Palabek in Lamwo District, Nakivale in Isingiro District, Kyaka II in Kyeggegwa District, Kyangwali in Hoima District.

The project targets to have 18,100 literacy and 12,000 language learners and to certify their acquisition of both technical (reading, writing, counting, speaking in foreign language) and functional skills in literacy or in a language other than their own. Target of women participants is 70% and people with disability 5 %. Additionally, about 800 trained, individual instructors.

Budget: 2,842,000 Euros
Duration: 4 years
Start date: 1.1.2018
Type/Sector: Development cooperation / Functional Adult Literacy
Donor: Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland – Unit for Civil Society

SDG logo with text: Quality education
SDG logo with text: 10 reduced inequaities
SDG logo with text: 16 Peace, justice and strong insitutions

Livelihood and Small Business Training in Refugee Settlements and in Urban Kampala, Uganda

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The project goal is to strengthen the resilience capacities of adults and the youth from refugee and host communities to cope better with current obstacles and to become less vulnerable in future, by improving their livelihood skills and access to resources.

Project is located in 6 areas; Kampala Urban in central Uganda, Refugee settlements of Nakivale in Isingiro District south west of Uganda and Ayilo I, Ayilo II, Nyumanzi and Pagirinya settlements of Adjumani District in northern Uganda.

The project targets 7,560 persons – about 5,500 business learners and 1,900 VSLA group members and provide them skills to increase livelihoods and employment / self-employment opportunities. Additionally, there are 160 individual facilitators.

Budget: 649,500 Euros
Duration: 4 years
Start date: 1.1.2018
Type/Sector: Development cooperation / Livelihood
Donor: Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland – Unit for Civil Society

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

Scale-Up of Financial Literacy Trainings for Refugees in Uganda

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The project aims at providing refugee learners with basic financial management skills thus enhancing their technical capacity to handle the cash-based transfer (CBT) Delivery Mechanism adopted by the World Food Programme (WFP).

This nation-wide project covers all the refugee settlements – in Adjumani district, Impevi, Kiryandongo, Kyaka II, Kyangwali, Nakivale, Oruchinga Palorinya, Rhino Camp and Rwamanja – where WFP provides food assistance to through cash-based transfers and targets 90% of refugees in Uganda benefitting from WFP food assistance through CBT i.e. 141,010 households; two participants from each of targeted households, of whom at least one must be a woman, will attend the financial literacy trainings.

Budget: USD 1,300,000 (the exact figure to be confirmed next week)
Duration: 1 year
Start date: 16.10.2020
Type/Sector: Humanitarian assistance/livelihoods and Functional Adult Literacy
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

Stories from Uganda

+256 0393 266 642
Plot 8284 Tomusange Close, Muyenga
P. O. Box 24526 Kampala
Country Director Tarja Saarela-Kaonga
tarja.saarela-kaonga (at)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, With support from Finland's development cooperation