Ugandans know how to treat a guest. Whether the visitor is a best friend or a stranger, a warm welcome is almost certain, and often includes a pot of tea or even bowls of delicious posho or matooke.
Hospitality is not unique to Uganda, but throughout the world right now there is one type of visitor who is being increasingly shunned, yet never in Uganda. Those visitors are refugees.
As Europe talks of barbed wires and holding areas to contain the massive inflow of refugees, and American presidential candidates argue over building walls and sending refugees back to dangerous home countries, Uganda, like several African nations, continues an open door policy, treating refugees like brothers and sisters in need of a helping hand.
According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), Uganda is home to more than 512,000 refugees, which makes our nation #3 in Africa in terms of welcoming refugees, and #8 in the world. We understand that no one wants to leave their homeland. They come because they need to. And isn’t it our duty as human beings to help those in need?
What is perhaps even more unique is that refugees in Uganda are not treated like second-class citizens. They are not forced to live in the prison-like environment of a refugee camp. Instead, they are integrated into Ugandan society. In fact, Ugandan refugee policies are among the most welcoming in the world.
Ugandan law gives refugees the right to primary education, to own and sell property, start a business, practice a profession, and seek employment opportunities. More than 200,000 refugees live in Kampala and are fully integrated into the city. Far from being a drag on the economy, they are functioning, productive members of society.
Migration is sadly becoming a global issue. Almost every week there are reports of migrant ships in the Mediterranean being stopped by authorities, or even worse, sinking with hundreds of human lives lost. Many of these are from North Africa, West Africa, and the Horn. One country from which they rarely come is Uganda, which is a testament to the stable economic and political situation that we have enjoyed for decades.
Uganda is not a source of refugees today, but that was not always true. Before President Museveni came to office in 1986, there were turbulent times. The worst was in 1972, when Idi Amin decreed that all Asians living in Uganda had 90 days to leave. Many of the families expelled had lived in Uganda for two or three generations, and approximately 20,000 ended up stateless as they had no citizenship other than Ugandan. Today, such treatment in Uganda is unimaginable. In fact, many of those expelled came back to Uganda once they saw stability under President Museveni.
Uganda today remains a beacon of hope for those living in turbulent regions. Perhaps more important, as Europe and the US debate ways to erect walls and patrol waters, Uganda remains a shinning example of how we all should treat those in need.