By Trudi Mitchell, Australia for UNHCR Deputy National Director

Grace is 19 and has lived in a refugee settlement in Uganda since she was in primary school. She and her younger sisters fled fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and arrived in Uganda’s Kyaka II refugee settlement. In the settlement she finished her schooling, but then reached a dead end. With no real job opportunities she was facing a life of poverty – many girls younger than her turn to early marriage to escape such poverty.

When people think of refugees, they often think just about the immediate needs of food, shelter and medicine. Life-saving emergency measures such as these are clearly hugely important. But as well as saving lives, there’s work to be done improving lives and securing futures.

The average length of time someone spends in a refugee camp is 20 years – and 70 per cent of the 27,000 strong population of Kyaka II are under 30. Twenty years is a long time for someone to put their life on hold. It’s also a long time for a host community and humanitarian organisations to support someone. It doesn’t make sense for youths like Grace, with their drive, ideas and intelligence, to be denied the opportunity to work and contribute to society.

Last year, a new approach to redefine the global response to mass displacement emerged. Called the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), this initiative was adopted by all 193 Member States at the UN Refugee and Migration Summit last September. It essentially means greater support for countries hosting the highest number of refugees, and a more sustainable approach to humanitarian aid that integrates with economic development.

Uganda has become a pilot for the CRRF. The country has incredibly generous policies for refugees – perhaps because many people in the government were once refugees themselves. Despite being a developing country, Uganda has an open door policy on refugees – they are treated like citizens, given land, and allowed to work. But with well over one million refugees, mostly from South Sudan and DRC, Uganda needs support to make its policies work.

When I met Grace, she told me it was her dream to become a hairdresser and start her own business, but she didn’t see how it could be possible for that dream to become reality.

Under the CRRF pilot, however, Australian donations will fund the Vocational Training Centre at Kyaka II, to help bridge the gap between emergency and development. The centre will give young people concrete skills to find work or establish their own businesses in hairdressing, carpentry, electronics, mechanics, hospitality and more. The courses are accredited by the Ministry of Education and can be upgraded to diploma and degree levels. There will also be places in the centre for Ugandan students to study alongside refugees. This will assist the host community as well as fostering strong relations between refugees and locals.

The centre will allow refugees be part of the solution. Grace will become a hairdresser and be able to support her younger sisters, instead of relying on handouts. And thousands more young people – 7,000 in the first three years of the centre opening – will learn a trade, start their own business and have the chance to prosper, instead of waiting out their youth in the settlement. The local economy will benefit from having more skilled people.

By integrating economic development with aid, refugees become part of the solution, not a problem to be solved.

This piece was first published by Third Sector on 22 August 2017.

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