Kampala, UGANDA



Concerned population



200 000 refugees were registered with UNHCR in 2013 but the real figure may be higher. The number of urban refugees in Kampala is undoubtedly increasing, as evidenced by the 31 000 new registration made in May 14 by the government.


According to the Women’s refugees Commission, the urban refugee community of Kampala is divided into 2 wealth groups: “vulnerable households” (who can not meet their basic needs) and “struggling households” (who can meet their basic needs but can not face emergency or unpredicted expenses).

Displacement pattern

Refugees arriving in Kampala come:

  • From rural areas of Uganda, were they lived in agricultural settlements for a while
  • Directly from their country of origin
  • Via transit countries such as Kenya

City profile

  • 1,72 million inhabitants (Uganda Bureau of Statistic 2010)
  • Annual growth rate of the city: 4,5 %, due in majority to rural-urban migration (Refugee Law Project)
  • Very high poverty rates, with 60 % of the city population living in slums (Justice and Peace Centre 2011)

Living areas

Refugees are scattered among the city-slums and tend to regroup according to their country of origin. Somalis mainly concentrate in the neighbourhood of Kisenyi while the Congolese community gathers in Katwe, Makindye and Masajja. Living conditions are often squalid. Asylum seekers also stay in the street at the Old Kampala Police Station, a congested area with security issue.

Protection concerns

  • Access to health: according to InterAid, health service providers have a negative and discriminatory attitudes towards refugees and often charge them more than the real cost of medication
  • Access to education: government schools in Kampala charge fees. More than 50% of children in age of going to school are not registered in any school (UN data, 2010)
  • Persecution: Due to the role Uganda played in  the DRC long standing conflict and in Rwanda , many asylum seekers and refugees are afraid of the Ugandan authorities.
  • Xenophobia against refugees, particularly Somalis

Refugee Law


1951 Convention: signatory
1967 Protocol: signatory


1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of the Refugee Problem in Africa: signatory


1960 Ugandan control of alien refugees act : required all refugees to reside in settlements (section 8)
2006 Ugandan refugee act:  allows refugees to choose to settle in Kampala, or elsewhere
NB: Scan uploaded from the Refugee Law Project’s website

Country asylum policy

From 1960 to 2006, refugees  had no option but to live in settlements located in rural areas. Refugees were allocated plots for agricultural activities (Refugee Law Project, 2005). They had to obtain permission to leave the camp settlements and only few refugees were allowed to live in urban settings (those in need of healthcare, with security concern, pending resettlement or with proven self sufficiency). Those who did not fit with these restrictions were left without assistance. Since 2006, the government has been allowing a very small number of refugees to settle in urban settings.

Online Resources:

M. Macchiavello, Livelihoods strategies of urban refugees in Kampala, Forced Migration Review n 20, 2011

Refugee Law Project,  A drop in the Ocean, Assistance and protection for forced migrants in Kampala, 2005

Human Rights Watch, Hidden in Plain View – Refugees living without protection in Nairobi and Kampala, 2002

J. Bernstein and M. Chrispus Okello, To be or not to be: urban refugees in Kampala,  Refuge, volume 24, n°1, 2007

H. Refstie, C. Dolan and M. Chrispus Okello, Urban IDPs in Uganda – victims of institutionnal convenience, Forced Migration Review 34

  • […] We also realized that Kampala alone has thousands of refugee children and all of them may not come to PPDR and PPDR may not accommodate them, this explained our move to advocate for the education of the less privileged children in Kampala and eventually in Uganda. Our team joined then the United nations High Commissioner for Refugee which requested the Forum for Education NGOs in Uganda to address the question of education to refugee children under the Education in emergency. According to, Kampala Urban Refugess, Raising the Voice of the Invisible, Government schools in Kampala charge fees. More than 50% of children in age of going to school are not registered in any school (UN data, 2010) – See more at: […]

Our impact

  • 3700

    refugees have better access to education and livelihood opportunities

  • 40

    countries in which our partner NGOs are implementing solutions

  • 490

    refugee children benefit from mathematics, english, art and sports classes

  • 700

    women can now support their families

  • 650

    refugees have access to critical healthcare and safety information

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