Paper presented to: OPM, UNHCR and other partners at the International Youth Day Celebrations in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, Yumbe District
Presented by; KRC Youth from Zone 5, Yangani Cluster
Uganda joins the rest of the World to commemorate the International Youth Day which is an annual event celebrated on 12th August with an aim of bringing youth issues to the attention of the international community and to celebrate the potential of youth as active partners in the global society. This year’s theme for the day is about “Youth Innovations for Transformation of Food Systems and Sustainable Human Health.”
Bidibidi Refugee Settlement is privileged to partake in this celebration despite the Corona pandemic fatigue and its associated lockdown which has mostly impacted on the youth both in and out of school, nationals and refugees. Youth in Uganda are the youngest population in the world, with 77% of its population being under 25 years of age.There are 7,310,386 youth from the ages of 15–24 years of age living in Uganda. These youth are positioned, active, and passionate, informed, interconnected and are spread across the country.
This year’s celebrations come at a time when the World is grappling with the deadly Corona Virus pandemic which has affected economies of both first and third world states. Youth have been worst hit and are now handicapped; youth who are bread winners, those who have been in school and those who have been solely dependent to their family members have been undergoing a lot of agony. A recent UNHCR/World Bank phone survey reveals the devastating toll of COVID-19 on the living conditions of refugees in Uganda and highlights the need for strengthened support to refugee communities, to mitigate the suffering inflicted by the pandemic. Uganda hosts the largest refugee population in Africa, with some 1.5 million people mainly from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By March 2021, the employment rates for these communities had dropped to 32 per cent, falling by 24 percentage points in comparison to pre-lockdown times. In contrast, after an initial drop, the host community’s employment rates were able to return to pre-pandemic levels. The survey put refugees in Uganda at fairing far worse than their host communities on key dimensions to welfare, such as employment, food security and mental health. The plight of the youth has however remained alarming as highlighted below;
- Early marriages and teenage pregnancies; with the total lockdown on schools and other institutions of learning, so many girls and boys are idle and in one place confined to one environment; they can no longer participate in social networks like sports galas, community dialogues and religious activities. They keep themselves busy by getting involved in behaviors which have led to unwanted pregnancies and child marriage. “…on top of the trauma and stress our youths are undergoing, the lockdown has sent many of them into sexual acts and the number of child pregnancies is expected to skyrocket if at all the situation remains as it is. Due to economic hardships, survival sex and child marriage is becoming a vice…” remarked one Kennedy from Yangani cluster.
- Depression, stress, trauma and attempted suicide; there has cropped cases of suicide in some communities especially among young married women who are faced with cases of domestic and gender-based violence. Some of these cases at times go un reported and/or un attended to. At some point some cases are costly to follow up in the legal perspective and/or pose a security threat to the whistle blower.
- High levels of unemployment; casual, informal and formal employment has totally gone dawn. Employers have cut dawn numbers and sent some for unpaid leave without any hope of resuming. This scenario has had a very big impact on youth especially those who are bread winners and equally those who fend for themselves
- School dropouts; the numbers of dropouts has-kept on increasing the first lockdown of 2020 and it is likely even to worsen during this current lockdown. There are some youths who have totally lost interest in going back to school and have resorted to getting married and/or doing petty businesses of selling pancakes and vending some other food and nonfood items. These even further exposes them to getting into acts of sexual abuse
- Lack of basic skills; like other zones, Yangani and Zone 4 main lack skills development and youth centres where they can learn a skill and or keep bus, have social interaction, create networks as well as learning productive skills from others. Their opportunity cost to violence is therefore zero since they have nothing to lose even if they engaged in violence
- Lack of rehabilitation centres; refugee youths have a lot of trauma and stress right from the situations in their countries of birth to the settlement and then the current situation they are living; averting this and bringing them especially the youth into seemingly normal life requires a well guided initiative of setting up rehabilitation centres where they can be given trauma healing sessions for mindset set change
- Lack of access to basic financial support and other income generating activities; there has not been deliberate income generating ventures and/or seed capital for refugee youths that would help them to startup small businesses which would later make them busy and improve their lives financially. This would be strong a safeguard for girls who are lured into sexual acts to earn
- Scholarships; to scale up their education/can go up to s4
- Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)
We encourage all partners to integrate spatial planning across sectors focusing on zone 5 Yangani Cluster and Zoe 4 Abirimajo which are still underdeveloped across Bidibidi Refugee Camp.
We argue the government to urgently lay strategies of reopening schools so as to curb the ongoing practices of early marriages and child pregnancies
Government should set up a special fund (seed capital) to help youth startup small businesses; also enact some policies that can help refugee youths to benefit on other youth led government programs.
We recommend establishment of fully fledged Youth Skills Development Centres in zone 4 and zone. These should offer skills through a Work Based Learning (WBL) approach with integrated ICT and entrepreneurship training as a means of enhancing life skills amongst refugees and the host communities
We recommend that refugee youth and those from host communities be involved in the current efforts towards eliminating harmful subsidies, and increasing access to beneficial subsidies to small business owners and young entrepreneurs.
We call upon government to take urgent action on food security by initiating small scale sustainable farming for quick growing crops amongst refugees and host communities. This be integrated with wise use of the environment and other natural resources as a means of booting nutrition and incomes at household level
We demand that partners adopt practices that encourage and support their youth population when it comes to protecting and sustaining biodiversity, recognizing the central participation of youth in the local community level; Initiatives aimed at protecting mother earth
There is need to invest in massive trauma healing and guided counseling sessions at community and/or household level amongst the refugee communities across board as a means of reducing and managing violent practices that have resulted into suicide.