Makerere aids refugee cause

February 12, 1999

Kampala

Uganda's Makerere University is to set up a refugee studies programme to enable university students to learn more about the problems of forced migration and to explore better ways of helping refugees rebuild their lives.

It has also reduced fees for non-national refugees in line with the level for home students.

Uganda hosts a semi-permanent population of some 200,000 refugees. Decades of internal conflict have forced many Ugandans themselves to live as refugees.

Makerere vice-chancellor P. J. M. Ssebuwufu said: "It will start as a programme to begin, most probably, in the schools of social science or political science. We want to study in depth the problems refugees encounter."

The programme is likely to begin next academic year, building on existing programmes in international law and refugees, and a course on women, violence and refugees.

Political scientist Tony Gingyera-Pinycwa has for several years taught courses on refugees in contemporary world politics and refugees and social policy.

Makerere education professor Pious Mungoma Mulye has promoted higher education opportunities in his work with Sudanese refugees.

Barbara Harrell-Bond, founding director of the refugee studies programme at the University of Oxford, is a visiting professor at Makerere. Associated with Makerere's Institute of Social Research, Dr Harrell-Bond is working with a European Union-funded research project and supervising other researchers studying the extent to which refugee rights are upheld in Uganda.

Many refugees are southern Sudanese who, unable to return to their homes, live in settlement camps throughout Uganda's northern districts. They have schools and medical facilities and are assisted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the World Food Program, and other non-governmental organisations.

"According to international conventions, refugees should enjoy the same privileges as local people," Professor Ssebuwufu said.

The refugee studies programme was announced at a ceremony where the vice-chancellor accepted more than 300 books worth about $10,000, donated by UNHCR. The book donation expressed gratitude for the stand the university made last September when the UNHCR high commissioner, Sadako Ogata, lectured at Makerere.

Professor Mulye had lobbied for fee reductions for refugees. The university had been charging refugees standard non-resident fees, which are 25 per cent higher for social science and humanities disciplines and up to 66 per cent higher for professional degree courses such as medicine and engineering.

"Makerere has always had refugee students as far back as the 1960s from Rhodesia and South Africa," Professor Ssebuwufu said.

Staff at Oxford's Hugh Pilkington Charitable Trust, based in Kampala, select scholarship recipients and help distribute UNHCR funds, donated by the German government through the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative.

Yosa Wawa, the trust's Kampala representative, said that in 1996-97 four students were sponsored, but this year it could afford to sponsor eight.

UNHCR funds are paying fees for 43 students throughout Uganda, 23 of whom attend Makerere.

Although Mr Wawa had hoped Makerere's gesture would allow his programme to sponsor even more students, the fee reductions were unfortunately matched by international monetary fluctuations, which effectively reduced overall UNHCR funding.

Last month seven refugee students - six undergraduates and one master's candidate - graduated from Makerere.

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