Case Study

Child Poverty and Deprivation in Refugee-Hosting Areas

Sheila Depio, Gemma Ahaibwe and Ibrahim Kasirye of the Economic Policy Research Center; Shailen Nandy and Marco Pomati of the University of Cardiff; Nathalie Meyer and Diego Angemi of UNICEF Uganda
Publication Year:
  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


Forced migration is an increasing global challenge and understanding how countries are dealing with people forced to flee their homes is both a humanitarian and an economic priority. During the past 20 years, the global population of forcibly displaced people nearly doubled – from 33.9 million in 1997 to 65.6 million in 2016 (UNHCR, 2017). At least 34 per cent of those displaced ended up as refugees in a country other than their own, and 15 per cent were displaced recently, during 2016.

Uganda has traditionally had a generous and progressive refugee policy and hosted refugees from across East Africa. However, in 2016/17, largely as a result of the crisis in South Sudan, Uganda’s refugee population almost doubled, reaching 1.38 million. Given the recent upheaval in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), this figure is likely to escalate even further. Between January and February 2018, more than 40,000 refugees had already entered Uganda from the DRC, against a projection of 60,000 in Uganda’s integrated refugee response plan for 2018.

This has put refugee-hosting areas, most of which are extremely poor and lack the economic resources and technical capacity to support the increasing numbers of refugees, under enormous pressure. Humanitarian efforts have contributed significantly in responding to the emergency and attempts have been made to build the resilience and livelihoods of both refugee and host communities. Key interventions aim to support refugees to integrate and become self-reliant, so that their living conditions are on a par with that of the host population.



This study assessed child poverty, deprivation and social service delivery in refugee and host communities in selected districts in the country’s three major refugee-hosting areas: West Nile, a subregion of Northern region that borders South Sudan; the country’s South West, which borders the DRC and Rwanda; and the capital, Kampala. The overall aim was to compare child poverty and deprivation among refugee and host communities, determine whether there are any (in) equities in the delivery of social services, and identify impediments to the effective delivery of services. Primary data was obtained from households and communities in the districts of Arua, Yumbe, Adjumani, Kamwenge, Isingiro and Kampala.



Emerging evidence suggests that:

1. Refugee children are more deprived of socially perceived necessities. For all items perceived by the majority of the population to be necessities for children, refugee children are more deprived than hosts’ children, ranging from 8 per cent to 32 per cent depending on the item. Refugee children are much less likely to receive gifts on special occasions and less likely to have new sets of clothes than hosts’ children

2. Deprivation among refugees tends to reduce over time. For selected basic indicators (water, sanitation and shelter), recent arrivals are the most deprived. Within five years of residence, deprivation rates among refugees are on a par with those of hosts, the reason being that levels of deprivation among host communities are already high. At the time of the survey, 62 per cent, 46 per cent and 49 per cent of hosts were deprived of water, sanitation and shelter respectively, while the corresponding proportions for refugees of more than five years’ residence were 69 per cent, 25 per cent and 42 per cent.

3. There are wide regional disparities in deprivations. While water deprivation is far lower in Kampala than in other refugee hosting areas, West Nile has the highest levels of sanitation deprivation, with over 80 per cent of host households deprived. Among refugees, households that have been in Uganda for ‘less than two years’ experience the highest rates of deprivation. Shelter deprivation is highest in West Nile, with over 80 per cent of all households – hosts as well as refugees – being deprived.

4. With the exception of West Nile, access to services tends to be similar for both host and refugee communities. Service delivery shows some differences – but most of these are not necessarily inequitable. Apart from a concentration of refugee-specific social service interventions in West Nile – which can be explained partly by the state of emergency there – host and refugee communities in the same area tend to experience similar social service conditions.

5. There is an urgent need to facilitate integration. To sustain the lives and livelihoods of refugees and hosts, there is a need to facilitate integration – not just in the physical sense. This would improve communication between the various parties and allow for the peaceful sharing of limited resources. At the intervention level, stakeholders need to go beyond emergency response and build the livelihoods and resilience of recent arrivals without compromising that of longer-term refugees, while continuing to prioritize poverty reduction programmes aimed at lifting Ugandans out of poverty.

6. A special focus in refugee-receiving districts is required. Overall, both refugee and host communities experience a significant level of deprivation, given that the main refugee-hosting areas are among the poorest and least developed in the country. Although conditions for refugees improve over time, basic needs deprivation among hosts remains high – in some cases higher than among refugees (e.g. water and shelter deprivation in West Nile). Such situations represent important social challenges in terms of growing resentment and potential conflict between host and refugee communities. Deliberate and targeted efforts to improve service delivery and the livelihoods of the host community should be explored as a measure to foster long-term peaceful coexistence.




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