HelpAge, networks want merger of policies to support older refugees

HelpAge International and its network organisations working for the rights of older persons have said although Uganda has the most progressive refugee policy in the Eastern Africa region, it is time however the government integrated its Older Persons Policy of 2009 into the protection of refugees.

According to Joselyn Birigwa, Project Manager of a Programme funded by the European Union and implemented in Adjumani district (Uganda), Gambella (Ethiopia) and Juba (South Sudan), such a move by the government will facilitate the planning, management, monitoring and reporting on the protection, livelihood and other services to older persons in refugee settlements for peaceful co-existence and integration of refugees and host communities.

“Currently, we are seeing the exclusion of older persons in the design of response programmes in emergencies. As a result, existing programmes are not responsive to the needs of older persons,” said Birigwa.

While lauding the Uganda government’s open-door policy to refugees, the networks said older refugees living within the country continues to face several protection risks, partly due to lack of capacity of various humanitarian agencies to be more inclusive and responsive to the needs and rights of the older persons.

Frederick Ouma Bwire, CEO Uganda Reach the Aged Association (URAA) applauded the government for its progressive policies on refugees.

As a result, Mr Bwire notes that Uganda’s Refugee Act (2006) has been hailed globally as the most progressive in the region.

Bwire added that Uganda is a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, the 1967 Protocol, and the OAU 1969 Convention; hence, the legal framework that guides on refugees protection is formally integrated into the Uganda’s National Development Plan II (2016-2020) through the Settlement Transformation Agenda (STA) that is linked to the Refugee and Host Populations Empowerment Strategy (ReHOPE) 2016 – 2020.

The frameworks call for peaceful co-existence and integration of refugees and host communities.

“However, failure to integrate these progressive laws with emerging population ageing dynamics is leaving older refugees exposed to abuse, exploitation and discrimination,” said Mr Bwire.

As a result, older persons in refugee camps suffer psychosocial torture and neglect.

“The older persons demand priority interventions to facilitate better protection services, improvement in practices of planning and delivery of services, taking cognizance of the attitudes of persons of concern towards Older Persons” said Birigwa.

A recent protection study by HelpAge International and Uganda Reach the Aged Association (URAA) on older South Sudanese refugees in Adjumani, northern Uganda revealed that six in ten older persons live in fear of safety and that access to services was not only inadequate but is also not age-friendly.

Safety concerns are most pronounced at distribution points with 67 per cent and 33 per cent at community centre within the settlements of Ayilo, Nyumanzi, Majji 1,2 and 3, Pagirinya in Adjumani.

As the World marked the World Refugee Day (WRD) on 20th June 2019, the UN has continuously urged the global community to show that the global public stands with refugees.

The UN says the World Refugee Day is an occasion to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce the achievements of humanity.

The theme of 2019 World Refugees Day was designated as “Step With Refugees — Take A Step on World Refugee Day”.

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