Experiences on inclusion of refugees in Uganda shared in Almedalen

A panel of six persons debated possible innovations to create democratic inclusion of refugees at the local level during ICLD;s seminar in Almedalen.
The main question for the seminar was: “What are possible innovations or best practices to create arenas where refugees can participate in the decisions concerning their lives?”

When you are able to look at refugees as anybody else in your community, it is easier to accommodate them, says Joseph Ssenyonga
“When you accept them you get to understand them – and also important, they get to understand you. That is very important.”
He testifies of a severe situation for the refugees in Uganda:
“The number of refugees overwhelms us. We have schools that demand more space and we also have facilities that are overcrowded”, says Joseph Ssenyonga.

To embrace the notion that we all originate from the same place is one of the most important lessons in the process of giving refugees a safe place to live, he says.
“We are all the same even though we may look different and talk different languages. In Uganda we have a very bad past with experiences of not being allowed to go outside our country. With that experience, we know what the refugees go through.”

As a community leader Joseph Ssenyonga needs to know what goes on in his community. Every day he asks himself; is there anything bad that has happened or is everything okay?
“If everything is okay I can move on to other responsibilities. Also, I have an obligation to talk to my second level leader, all the planning has to be done at the municipality level.”

He finds that building relations are very important.
“Yes, as the first community leader it is my obligation to be informed, from the top, but also from lower levels. Sometimes I don´t get this information. It takes some personal effort to be informed – and to inform your community”, he says.

Josephs Ssenyonga’s task is not easy, he is under pressure from both his superiors and from the people in the community, for who he is supposed to provide the best possibilities and environment possible.
“You have to create a balance, make sure that your priorities are set on the most important matters.

What motivates you in your work?
“I try to make a difference for the people in my community, to make them feel like they are at home.”
 In July he was asked by the ICLD to attend the seminar during the political week in Almedalen. He shared his views about how to create an inclusive city for refugees, and he learned from the other attendants at the seminar.
 Now he can return to Uganda with his new knowledge.
“If you are not informed, how are you going to lead the people”, he says?
What would you say are the most important challenges in your work right now?
“To enable the flow of information from the top level to be communicated down in the organisation. And from there, out to all the leaders at all levels in the community in order to implement different policies. There is a very big gap between different levels of government, it´s like a vacuum.”
“In the divisional municipal where I come from they are not informed, and this is a very important issue for the administration. For example, they need to be informed, and involved, to make a budget for the work with the refugees. This is really the most important call for me – to bridge this gap of information.”

Do the people trust your government to do the right things?
“Part of the community trust the government, part of it is not. And it all depends on this gap in the flow of information, that’s why it is so important for me to bridge this gap. My plan is to invite leaders on different levels so we better can handle questions about refugees.”

What do you think about the work ICLD do?
“They are doing a big job. Inviting me here gave me access to people and opened opportunities to work hand in hand with communities in Sweden. I expect that we will have some concrete examples of partnership after this seminar.”
“I try to push, but not too aggressively. If you are too aggressive people may misunderstand you. You need to give them time to understand what you are saying and figure out a solution that is working for them.”