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N. Ugandans Make New Start Despite Absence of Final Peace Deal

The climate for resettlement is changing in northern Uganda. With peace talks between the government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) inching closer toward a final settlement, improved security is encouraging many internally displaced people (IDP’s) to return home to resume farming their lands and rebuilding their communities. Advocate researchers Melanie Teff and Camilla Olson of the group Refugees International have spent the past month surveying the transition process and assessing conditions for ensuring a voluntary process of return. Back in Washington, Camilla Olson says that with rebel leader Joseph Kony delaying to sign a final peace agreement (FPA), many of the IDP’s are temporarily resettling in two places, with one foot in their interim camps and transit sites and the other foot implanted back in their origin homelands.

“We’ve seen that people are returning more and more in the past two years since the peace negotiations began. There hasn’t been any active fighting in the north, and so more people are able to access their land and to begin farming. But many of the displaced people we spoke with in the north are still concerned that the LRA may return, particularly since Kony has not signed the peace agreement. So they’re keeping a hut in the camp where they’re living at the same time that they’re starting to cultivate their own land, in case they have to return to the camps again,” she said.

Basic services in the return areas are far away from being adequate for those resettling. Olson singles out clean water, education, and health care as the primary services in need of improvement as Ugandan and international aid programs convert from humanitarian priorities to reconstruction and development efforts.

“There isn’t access to safe water. There aren’t schools yet. Health centers are lacking. So people keep a presence in the camps in order to access a lot of these services,” she notes.

On July 1, the Kampala government introduced its Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) for rebuilding the north. It has been extended to operate in 40 districts, well beyond the originally targeted 14. But the Refugees International advocates report that funding has not been stepped up proportionally, and confusion reigns about how the government of President Museveni is going to make up the funding gap. Teff and Olson came up with a set of five policy recommendations to help international donors and aid agencies channel their aid to areas where they make a difference. Olson outlines the steps that need to be taken.

“Our main recommendations for the US and UK governments are to urge the government of Uganda to commit to funding for the PRDP, which is a framework for rebuilding the north and assisting those displaced people who are going back to their home areas to have access to those basic services. We’re also in particular concerned about policing in communities in the presence of a strong and capable police force, trusting the US to provide financial support to improve their capacity and training for those police officers. And particularly for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), we want to make sure that returns are done in a voluntary manner. So we’re asking for the UN Refugee Agency and the US and UK governments to make sure that the Uganda government is upholding the voluntariness of returns. And also, there are neglected IDP populations that we found in other parts of Uganda outside of the Acholi area in the north. And we’re hoping that the UN Refugee Agency can assist them with the return process as well,” she pointed out.

The fifth Refugees International recommendation involves asking US lawmakers and aid officials to budget a significant $35 million increase in discretionary, non-earmarked funding for next year and to add on to the US contribution to the UNHCR’s budget in ways that will support its programs for rehabilitating internally displaced persons.