Supporting the humanitarian response in Uganda and Tanzania: Accountability to refugees and displaced persons

The Refugee Law Initiative (RLI) has recently undertaken research supporting humanitarian responses in Uganda and Tanzania. This research collaboration with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) examined humanitarian organisations’ responsiveness to displaced populations, and how communication with and feedback from such communities is utilised within the humanitarian organisation’s decision-making processes.

During the pandemic, the RLI examined the impact of Covid-19 on IRC Uganda’s humanitarian response and accountability to refugees. The research reveals how humanitarian organisations can be accountable to the communities they serve even during a pandemic when engagement between humanitarian staff and affected populations is heavily restricted. It demonstrates how challenges can be overcome by adapting programming and communication channels, and by finding new and alternative strategies to support refugee populations, including the most vulnerable and persons in remote areas. In turn, the research suggests these strategies can also be applicable in ordinary times too.

In parallel, the RLI undertook research in collaboration with IRC Tanzania. This larger case study investigated how the organisation fosters meaningful participation of, and feedback to, refugees, as well as ways of improving these forms of refugee participation. This also includes how it can influence its own staff culture to foster greater receptivity to refugee engagement. Spanning five sectors of the organisation, the research provides a detailed evaluation of the Tanzania country office’s operation, and key findings and lessons which are relevant and applicable to other IRC country programmes, as well as other humanitarian organisations.

This research has resulted in the development of a series of audio podcasts for refugees which are being disseminated throughout a number of settlements using Boda Boda broadcasts. The use of Boda Boda broadcasts has proved to be a strong basis to reach communities, and increase the effectiveness of information communication. These podcasts provide information on how refugees can engage with IRC and partner organisations, the importance of their feedback, and how communities can respond to cases of fraud, corruption or sexual exploitation and abuse. The aim is to assist refugees overcome barriers and establish and maintain equitable and collaborative relationships with the humanitarian organisations that serve them. Produced in five local languages, these messages are being broadcast by IRC and humanitarian partners in early 2022 across the five zones in Bidi Bidi, Uganda’s largest refugee settlement located in the West Nile region. The pilot will be revisited in six months and, if successful, the initiative will be replicated in other areas of interest within Uganda and serve as a basis for organisational learning in the region – stay tuned for further updates!

The RLI has also developed Guidance on Accountability to Affected Populations during COVID-19 and other emergency contexts. This guidance synthesises learning on accountability to affected populations in crises and is designed to an accessible and practical reference point for practitioners working in COVID-19 and other crisis contexts across the globe.

This research was funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) as part of the RECAP Project: ‘Research capacity strengthening and knowledge generation to support preparedness and response to humanitarian crises and epidemics,’ grant number ES/P010873/1.