By Halima Athumani

KAMPALA, Uganda 

The Ugandan government is running out of land for the over one million refugees seeking shelter on its soil.

“The government land designated for refugees is limited and most of those areas are now occupied,” Hillary Onek, Uganda’s minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, told journalists at a news conference Tuesday.

Uganda running out of land for refugees

Uganda now hosts over one million refugees, mainly from volatile neighboring countries, especially South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to figures from the UNHCR refugee agency. This makes it the third-largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and eighth in the world.

Onek stated that while they previously gave refugee families 1-3 acres of land to occupy, due to the swelling numbers, they had to start giving less. “Today it’s been reduced to half an acre. We have no option except giving them what we can afford, and we are struggling,” she explained.

Making an appeal, he added, “That’s why we are calling for support from other agencies and other countries that can also help and take these refugees, to take some.”

These land shortages can lead to conflict. At Nakivaale, a refugee camp that hosts over 124,800 refugees in Western Uganda’s Isingiro district, a local council officer last week put out radio announcements calling on locals to attack and overrun the refugee camp in order to grab land.

At the same news conference, Ajit Fernando, deputy representative of the UNHCR, called on donor countries to step up support to refugees. “It costs almost $10 million to host 10,000 refugees, and we have 4,000 crossing into Uganda every day. The underfunding is critical.”

U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Deborah Malac said Tuesday that Washington is giving Uganda and the UNHCR $25.2 million to support refugees in the country. The funds will be used to support programs targeting gender-based violence, livelihoods, water and sanitation, improved protection, and healthcare services.