Bidibidi settlement, located in Yumbe district, is the world’s second-largest refugee settlement and the largest in Africa. Covering an area of 250 square kilometers on the Eastern half of the district. According to UNCHR, it houses a total of 42,788 households with a population of 246,312, the majority of whom are refugees (246,310). This population comprises 84% women and children and 3% elderly individuals. The settlement has seen a continuous influx of refugees, driven by escalating political tensions and conflicts in neighboring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.

KRC-Uganda and their  partners during a mobile court in zone 4, Palabek refugee settlement

For many refugees from Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Ethiopia, and the DRC, Bidibidi settlement has become their new home. Refugees are allocated small pieces of land measuring 30mX30m by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), where they seek refuge and attempt to rebuild their lives.

However, recent developments have posed challenges to the well-being of refugees in Bidibidi settlement. The World Food Program (WFP), which previously provided food rations to refugees, announced a reduction and potential discontinuation of this assistance due to funding shortfalls. As a result, refugees have been affected by acute malnutrition and starvation especially among children. Many have resorted to land for production while others have turned to activities such as casual laboring, brick making, and charcoal burning to survive. Unfortunately, this situation has also led to an increase in early marriages among young girls.

In response to reduced food rations, refugees have sought to acquire more land from the host communities. However, this has presented its own set of challenges, including difficulties in accessing and utilizing the land. Many refugees have voiced concerns about the high costs charged by landlords and instances where landlords reclaim their land before the agreed-upon rental period expires, leading to conflicts. Access to justice for land-related issues has emerged as a critical issue, with many refugees facing obstacles in seeking legal redress.

Several factors contribute to these limitations. Firstly, there is a lack of awareness among refugees regarding their land rights, the land tenure system and the legal processes available to them. Additionally, Uganda’s land laws do not explicitly recognize or adequately address the specific land rights of refugees, further complicating their ability to assert their rights. For instance, For instance, land in Yumbe District is communally owned but the existing land laws in Uganda do not explicitly recognize or adequately address the specific land rights of refugees. This limits refugees’ ability to rebuild their lives with dignity and resilience.

 Negative cultural norms and gender roles also play a part, as certain traditional practices discriminate against women. This is mainly because in male-controlled societies like in Yumbe, women don’t own easily access and own land, therefore making it challenging for them to seek justice. Furthermore, the geographical spread of the settlement poses a significant barrier to accessing legal aid services, as refugees living in remote areas may find it difficult to access these services due long distances and financial limitations to facilitate their travels to the legal aid service centres.

To address these challenges, several recommendations have been proposed. These include launching targeted awareness campaigns using community leaders and information dissemination channels to educate refugees on their land-related rights and legal avenues. It is also suggested to establish a mechanism for integrating traditional land-use practices into the legal framework, ensuring cultural sensitivity and respect for refugees’ connections to the land. Regular workshops and information sessions on land-related laws and procedures are recommended to empower refugees with the knowledge needed to protect their land rights. Additionally, establishing legal aid clinics within the settlement or partnering with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide free legal assistance to refugees could improve access to justice. Strengthening Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) structures within the settlement is also proposed as a means of resolving conflicts.

In conclusion, addressing the challenges faced by refugees in Bidibidi settlement requires a comprehensive approach that includes raising awareness of rights, addressing detrimental cultural practices, and establishing a more accessible judicial system. By empowering refugees with knowledge and providing them with the necessary support, it is possible to ensure that they can seek justice and defend their land rights within the settlement.

By Francis Opio

Peace Building Project Manager 


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