Children, the face of the refugee crisis in Uganda

child refugees in uganda
UNICEF Uganda/2017/Ose

The situation

60 per cent of all refugees in Uganda are children. Behind these numbers, are the individual faces and stories of children, who, in many cases, have experienced terrible, life-altering events.

Uganda is home to over 900,000 child refugees and asylum seekers who have fled conflict or persecution from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. Of these, over 71 per cent are from South Sudan where years of fighting and economic collapse have relentlessly forced families to abandon their homes.

Most refugee children live with the trauma of having witnessed or suffered forced displacement, separation from loved ones, and physical and sexual violence. Even in refuge, many continue to be vulnerable to marginalization and violence, especially gender-based violence.

However, refugee children aren’t the only ones affected by the massive influx into Uganda. Children living in the districts, hosting refugees and asylum seekers – who represent 56 per cent of the total host community population – are also living with the impact of unprecedented demands on their already strained services.

Uganda’s progressive model for refugee protection and management is giving better prospects for refugee children in Uganda than in similar contexts globally. Refugee children in Uganda enjoy the same full existing legal, physical and social protection system as the host population and use the same social services as them, such as public health, universal primary and secondary education, child protection, and birth registration services, among others.

Furthermore, Uganda is unique in not following a policy of refugee encampment, with most refugees residing in rural settlements alongside Ugandan citizens.

Fast facts


60% of all refugees and asylum seekers are children below the age of 18.

+900,000 refugee children in Uganda

+643,000 refugee children from South Sudan

+190,000  refugee children from the Democratic Republic of Congo

+24,000  refugee children from Burundi

+22,000  refugee children from Somalia

+22,000 Others


Building on its ongoing emergency response to the refugee influx and its long term development support to refugee hosting districts, UNICEF is contributing to three of the five pillars of Uganda’s Comprehensive
Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) for refugees and host communities – Admission and Rights, Emergency Response and Ongoing Needs and Resilience and Self-Reliance.

Pillar 1: Admission and Rights

  • Birth registration/civil registration
  • Registration of unaccompanied and separated children
  • Advocacy and communication to raise awareness on the rights of refugee children
  • Conflict prevention and peace building within the settlements and host communities

Pillar 2: Emergency Response and Ongoing Needs

  • Health: medical screening and vaccinating all refugee children against polio and measles.
  • Nutrition: screening every child refugee and providing severe acute malnutrition (SAM) treatment as required.
  • WASH: providing safe water, adequate sanitation and good hygiene practices.
  • Education: providing support on key family care practices; early childhood development (ECD) caregiver trainings; supplies in ECD centres; temporary ECD centres and primary school classrooms; and psychosocial support and life skills.
  • Child Protection: reuniting children with parents/family members; identifying alternative care for unaccompanied/separated children; preventing violence, especially gender based violence; and establishment of child friendly spaces to provide psychosocial support.

Pillar 3: Resilience and Self-Reliance

  • Health: accelerating the provision of high-impact Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn & Child Health interventions (RMNCH) with an approach that includes overall health systems strengthening and community engagement.
  • Nutrition: increase access to essential and quality nutrition services, including treatment of severe and moderate acute malnutrition (SAM and MAM) and the promotion of infant and young child feeding with a focus on the first 1000 days of a child’s life.
  • WASH: increase clean water coverage to reduce dependence on water trucking, adopt a Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) strategy and improve the overall sanitation environment with a focus on rural schools.
  • Education: increasing access to early learning and accelerated learning for both refugee and host communities and strengthening the government and community’s capacity to implement Peace Building Education and Conflict and Disaster Risk Management (CDRM).
  • Child Protection: inclusion of specialized refugee needs into district plans and service provision, (i.e. justice for children); roll-out of routine birth registration; and prevention of and response to violence against children.


Humanitarian Situation Reports

UNICEF Uganda Annual Report 2016


#InvestInUGchildren: Realise Uganda’s Vision 2040