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Using Land to Promote Refugee Self-Reliance in Uganda

Larissa Larsen and Ph.D. student Timothy Berke.

Around the world, the number of people displaced from their homes continues to increase due to political conflict and climate change. The Ugandan government’s policy for settling refugees shifts the focus from seeing refugees as humanitarian obligations to recognizing that refugee settlements bring improved services and infrastructure that can serve both refugees and residents of the host communities. A key aspect of this policy is to provide refugees with land use rights, so they are able to achieve “self-reliance”. This research investigates (1) the role of planning in establishing the physical layout of Bidi Bidi,  Uganda’s largest integrated settlement, (2) the host community’s rationale for allowing refugees access to their land, and (3) how refugees used this land. Based on interviews, participant observation, GIS analysis, and document analysis, we learned how refugees altered the settlement’s layout to better meet  their needs, the unintended consequences of large-scale deforestation on the most vulnerable, and the limitations of the land-based approach to achieve self-reliance. These findings suggest expanding the avenues to achieve self-reliance, improving “integration” of service provision between refugees and residents of the host community, and protecting the area’s environment to maintain needed resources.

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