An invisible refugee crisis

An invisible refugee crisis

Did you know about the invisible refugee crisis in Uganda?

In 2016, Uganda took in more people than any other nation in the world — and that includes all of Europe at the height of the crisis.

In 2016, the nation took in more people than any other nation in the world — and that includes all of Europe at the height of the crisis. Unfortunately, it’s not making headlines.

In response, GiveDirectly has launched a service called Cash for Refugees to enable large cash transfers to refugees. We’re starting with Uganda, where despite very limited resources, more than 1.4 million refugees are being granted basic rights (like education, land, and the right to leave settlements or become a citizen). We kicked off a pilot in 2017 and are looking to scale significantly over the next year, with your help.

Images of refugees in boats make headlines and grip hearts, but we rarely think about what happens to them 1, 2, or even 10 years later. It turns out that refugees spend, on average, 10+ years in settlements or camps. The aid they receive helps them survive, but rarely do they get the chance to start building for the future. Cash travels fast, has no shipping costs and empowers refugees to take back the reins of their lives. 

Here’s a quick FAQ run-down of the project:

1. How much money will recipients receive?

So far, households in our pilot received lump sum transfers of around US $650.

2. What will the cash be spent on?

As always, whatever recipients choose to spend it on. Because of Uganda’s progressive refugee policies, they can invest the money in education or small businesses. We expect some of the grant will also be used on shorter-term consumption spending, like food and healthcare.

Read more about the evidence on how cash transfers are effective.

3. What refugees are being targeted? 

We’re working with refugees who are in protracted exile, i.e. people who fled their homes 5 years ago or more. We’re also supporting local communities hosting these refugees, the majority of whom are themselves living in extreme poverty. The goal is not only to empower these families with cash, but also to strengthen social and economic bonds between the two groups.

4. How will refugees receive the cash?

We’re testing two approaches: some recipients are receiving through mobile money, others through traditional banking. We will assess which option translates to greater efficiency, scalability, and a superior recipient experience.

5. Where are these refugees coming from and how long have they been in Uganda?

With an ongoing crisis in South Sudan and increasing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the refugee population in Uganda has grown to over 1.4m. The refugees we are working with are mostly from the DRC, but we may expand our work to reach refugees from other conflicts in the region.

6. How many people are you targeting?

We’ve reached 4,400 households, (21,500 individuals) with our pilot. With your support, we’re targeting 8,000 households in the project’s next phase.

7. What’s a day in the life of a refugee in Uganda?

In many ways, it’s quite similar to life for poor families across East Africa. For many, farming is central to daily life: harvesting for subsistence, selling any surplus. Many seek work as manual laborers, to earn a small income. A few own livestock. Some, though not many, run a business. It’s estimated that just 1% have found salaried employment. Poverty is a fact of life. The majority of Uganda’s refugees live on less than 50c a day. Many are severely food insecure.

But being a refugee is unique. Refugees have fled their homes, often with only what they can carry on their backs. They have been exiled from their homelands, many will remain so for the rest of their lives. As increasing numbers of refugees arrive (almost a million have in the last two years), resources to support them are stretched. Achieving true self-reliance remains a distant dream. Though in a recent survey, 52% said that a lack of capital was their primary barrier to achieving it…

8. Are there other organizations supporting this work?

We are excited to be receiving funding support for this work from the Ikea Foundation, UK’s Department for International Development, Comic Relief, UBS Optimus Foundation, Conrad Hilton Foundation, and Tent Foundation.

Support GiveDirectly’s work here. If you’d like your donation to specifically go to their Ugandan refugee project, please email noting the date of your donation so we can flag it appropriately.

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GiveDirectly is a recommended charity of The Life You Can Save. Using cell phone technology, GiveDirectly provides direct cash transfers to recipients living in extreme poverty. Randomized controlled trials have demonstrated that these direct transfers drastically improve the lives of GiveDirectly’s participants, their families, and communities.

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The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.