Having just returned from an impromptu long weekend in Kenya which consisted of 13 hour bus journeys and getting up close and personal with some wild animals in the grassy plains of Masai Mara, I am ready to immerse myself this week to explore some of the issues in the growing queue for the legal aid clinic. After conversing with the head of that department, it was manifest that instead of working in symbiotic partnership with UNHCR, RLP finds itself struggling to reach its target audience as the UNHCR acts as an unwanted shield. The cases it does receive through their referral will be “trouble” ones or cases it deems to be a “nuisance” to be pushed off.
Such a lack of cooperation is quite disconcerting as the RLP must battle and use otherwise precious resources just to participate, to protect the rights of refugees. It seems as though the fundamental and thus critical differentials are the differences in structure, accountability and philosophy. While the RLP responds to the problems of refugees, UNHCR appears to be reacting to the refugee problem. One views the specific grievances of the individual to protect his or her internationally recognized rights while the other holds a collective perspective and thus treats them systematically. Both individualistic and utilitarian frameworks are indispensable in ensuring the protection of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Hopefully, there will be an improvement on relations in the future so that RLP has more access and that UNHCR does not view its work as a threat. See some of RLP’s working papers regarding the process of refugee status determination and the challenges therein.
One of the most significant challenges which face RLP and refugees is the utter lack of information concerning the displaced by governmental bodies, by international organizations, by the hosting communities and the displaced population themselves. In RLP’s latest working paper, research revealed that most people failed to realize that refugees resided in the city at all (because of the general thought that refugees were placed in settlements or camps) and thus no services or structures were in place to address the issues facing urban refugees. Education, training and general publicity present the first step in the protection of human rights. Refugees can be shuttled and referred from one place to another without a firm or written policy on procedures. Often times the general vulnerability of refugees is recognized without a lucid understanding of the manner in which they are vulnerable.
For example, the RLP is attempting to receive funding for training on the international standards required concerning sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) at the settlements. Given the structure of the settlements, women are especially vulnerable when certain acts including domestic abuse, prostitution, and rape are condoned by cultural practices and then overlooked by international humanitarian aid organizations who defer to traditional leaders (some of which may be committing such offenses). The lack of the rule of law is pronounced; camp commanders may justifiably feel they are above the law. Cases of SGBV are thus buried and remain unaddressed. Despite its abundant caseload and extremely limited resources, RLP desires to the opportunity to prosecute such cases but is faced with a system that suppresses the voice of refugee women.
The personal challenges of finding my way back to my new home (which I don’t think has an address), cold showers, (in)ability to find batteries and hosting a convention for mosquitoes on my arm pales (more like translucent because they are inane) compared to the issues which arise everyday at work. The other day I cut off 8 inches of my hair (bringing my age down to about 15) so that I could conserve water. Note that none of the above are complaints just minor (and oftentimes amusing) adjustments. In the past few weeks I have filled up even more pages in my passport, after weekend trips to Rwanda and Kenya. I look forward to the weekends to come where I will explore more rural areas of Uganda and Kampala itself. In my journeys crossing borders to the other nations, the beauty of the red clay, green fields and smiling faces of Uganda has become unequivocal.
Posted By Eun Ha Kim (Uganda)
Posted Jun 15th, 2005