“My Children Should Stand Strong to Make Sure We Get Our Land Back”: Host Community Perspectives of Uganda’s Lamwo Refugee Settlement

Published: 28 Mar 2018
By: Tigranna Zakaryan


By January 2018, there were approximately 1.4 million refugees and asylum seekers in Uganda, the majority of whom are from South Sudan. The rapid expansion and demarcation of land for refugee settlements in northern Uganda has allowed national and international actors to respond to the humanitarian needs of South Sudanese refugee communities. While this has led to life-saving interventions, the processes by which land was acquired from host communities has gone largely unquestioned by donors and humanitarian and development partners active in the Uganda refugee response.

This paper examines the complexities surrounding the acquisition of land from customary Acholi landowners in Lamwo District. It sheds light on the perspectives of those whose land is now supporting the refugee response in Lamwo Refugee Settlement and the challenges they currently face in securing their land tenure and understanding the conditions upon which their land is now being occupied.

The process of land acquisition for the purpose of establishing this refugee settlement is explored through a legal framework. The Constitution of Uganda explains that in the case there is a compulsory acquisition of property, “prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation, prior to the taking of possession or acquisition of the property”.

While landowner interviewed by IRRI explained that they did not expect, nor were promised, monetary compensation for giving land, they expressed concern as to their lack of access to documentation stating the terms upon which and when their land will be returned. Local government officials attributed this lack of information to the uncertainty around how long refugees will stay in Uganda. Host communities also expressed their willingness and preference to host refugees through local integration mechanisms as opposed to pursuing a settlement approach.

The paper presents the challenges associated with securing customary land tenure and the promise of development to local communities in exchange for giving land. It makes recommendations to all stakeholders in the Uganda refugee responses in relation to the upholding of rights of customary landowners, supporting community-driven development which includes the local integration of refugees. It concludes with suggestions of avenues for promoting positive social cohesion among host communities and the Ugandan government, as well as supporting positive refugee-host community relations.

Programmes: Rights in Exile, Freedom of Movement for Refugees
Regions: Great Lakes Region, Uganda
Type: Library, Paper