Inside The Refugee Camps: How Refugees Survive In Uganda

Since they get displaced from their homes leaving all their possessions behind, refugees usually find it hard to survive as the little support they get is not enough and have no income generating activates. For this reason, refugees and organizations that deal with them introduce business ideas that could help them sustain themselves. Here are some of the income generating activities refugees engage in and how they have transformed their lives.

Livelihood sectors

Abdul Aziz Muhammad, a Somali refugee says they are lucky that Uganda gives them freedom of work and Ugandans are lenient enough to support their businesses.

“I started as a hawker in areas of Kisenyi, Kampala in 2010 and I have since grown my perfume business into a big venture to the level of importing some of my goods without restrains,” he says.

Bright Mugenyi, a field coordinator for an NGO he preferred not to mention, works in three refugee camps. He notes that most organizations help refugees in various ways for example they train different groups in bakery, salon work and are given startup tips and capital. This helps them earn money which remains in the group.

Voluntary saving and loan associations

Mugenyi adds that some engage in voluntary saving skills where they save an agreed amount of money either per week or month. When the saving period ends which is in most cases a after a year, they share the capital.

“But in the meantime, they keep borrowing at an interest rate of 10 per cent, which grows their capital base,” he says.


Sell merchandise

Abdul Aziz notes that most refugees start by selling small merchandise like soap, match boxes, food stuff among others which they keep growing through constant saving and re investing of profits.

Agro based

Mugenyi says that some refugees in camps like Bidi Bidi engage in bee keeping activities, different organizations take the initiative of training them to keep and extract honey, wax and other bee products. They pack this honey and the other products and sell to make money.

Vocational skills

Organizations train children especially the youth in different vocational skills like knitting, baking, vehicles maintenance carpentry and after the course, they are given tools to start up. They are given sewing machines, car repair tools boxes and other equipment’s basing on what they have studied.

Mugenyi notes that these youth setup these enterprises and offer services to both the refugee, locals and guests who visit the camps.

Cash for work

Since not everyone can do business, Abdul Aziz notes that some refugees do cash for work activities. For example in case there is a community access road to be constructed, they are called upon to work and are in turn given money. And some go for formal or other informal jobs to earn a living.

Talent development

Mugenyi notes that in some camps talent is being upheld and carried out as business to earn a living. He says recently, a talent show was organized in Bidi Bidi camp and the winners were given different prizes.

Value addition Projects

A few partners were given a processing machine to do value addition in Bidi Bidi a business they operate with the locals, Mugenyi notes that value addition is a business done in a number of camps which has strengthen the relationship between refugees and locals.

How it has transformed their lives

Mugenyi notes that initially, refugees were relying on food and nonfood items like soap, clothes, shoes which were given to them by different donors for survival and had no financial capacity to buy things.

The introduction of business ideas in camps has helped them diversify their income hence take their children to better schools in places of Arua and other settlement districts.

They have also been able to get medical help in other specialized institutions and private clinics as they have the cash to give in exchange for the services.

Abdul Aziz notes that they are able to live a decent life as they can eat well, dress better, travel and live a normal life without fear of war, death or losing their property. He adds that they have also had a chance to make money of their own and don’t entirely have to rely on donations.

Mugenyi notes that cases of theft have reduced in camps and host communities as refugees have something to do and don’t have to steal for survival anymore.

He adds that through the different trainings, they are able to grow a business mindset which will help them even when they go back to their countries.

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