Eritrean refugees and the Ugandan asylum system

Published: 25 Jul 2018


A new policy paper by the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) examines Eritrean asylum seekers’ ability to access refugee status in Uganda. It shows how the combination of low recognition rates, the proliferation of informal interlocutors and corruption all render refugee status increasingly inaccessible to Eritreans and undermine the efficiency of the Ugandan asylum system.

Until the late 2000s, there were few Eritreans officially registered as refugees or asylum seekers in Uganda, but in the last decade their number has steadily increased. According to official statistics, by the end of 2017 there were 14,592 registered Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Uganda. Less than a third (4,566 individuals or 31%) of them are recognised refugees. The rest are asylum seekers.

IRRI recommends that OPM continue to work to minimise the reliance of applicants on informal interlocutors when applying for asylum by making information on the asylum process easily accessible in all relevant languages, strengthening outreach mechanisms to ensure individuals are informed that payment is not required at any stage of the process and working to ensure that officials at any level are not involved in, or implicitly encourage, such informal practices.

Moreover, asylum applications should be processed fairly and effectively in accordance with international standards. In particular, the principle of “first country of asylum” should only be applied where there are guarantees that the individual in question will indeed be readmitted at that “first country”, be allowed to lawfully stay there, be protected from refoulement and accorded all the rights he or she is entitled to in accordance with international refugee and human rights law.

Finally, OPM and UNHCR should work with the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control to address the situation of Eritreans and Sudanese arriving from Israel. Despite Israeli promises, these people did not receive a legal status upon their arrival in Uganda and remain in an ambiguous position vis-à-vis the Ugandan authorities that deny their presence in the country. The Ugandan government should agree on a process by which they will be able to acquire a legal status in Uganda and should publish this process.

Programmes: Rights in Exile
Regions: Uganda, North and Horn of Africa
Type: Library, Paper