Recognition and Equating of Academic Qualifications for Refugees

Uganda is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, and third globally with 1,503,601 refugees (UNHCR Report, 31st August 2021) making up 3.3% of the country’s total population. The country has a generous open-door policy towards displaced persons and its legal and policy framework regarding refugees is considered one of the most progressive in the world. Most refugees arrive in Uganda from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and Somalia.

Uganda implements the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), which promotes the country’s progressive policy through a multi-stakeholder approach, boosting resilience and self-reliance, and expanding solutions for both refugee and host communities. This allows freedom of movement, provides land to refugees settling in designated areas, as well as affording them the right to work and access national services.

However, significant gaps exist for labour force participation and unemployment rates among refugees in Uganda. Working-age refugees are 27% points less likely to participate in the labour market than host community members (42% and 69%, respectively) and 24% points more likely to be unemployed (31% and 7%, respectively). This is particularly true among youth (age 14-25 years), where 50% of refugee males and 41% of females are unemployed (UNCHR) The lack of decent employment for refugees is not only a missed opportunity to contribute to host communities, but also increases risk of poverty and permanent dependence on humanitarian assistance.

The working refugees earn on average 32% less than Ugandan nationals with similar education. Many refugees accept employment that is below their skills level, education and pre-displacement occupation. Such professional downgrading is widely visible, especially among those with higher levels of education. This is due to a lack of recognition of refugee qualifications, poor transferability of skills and professional experience. Discrimination, inconsistency and cost of compliance with local regulations as well as employers’ lack of information about the legal status of refugees have also been shown to contribute to this (Loiacono and Vargas 2019; Chang 2018).

To bridge this gap, International Labour Organisation (ILO) under PROSPECTS initiative contracted National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) in partnership with Windle International Uganda (WIU) to deliver a project for creating awareness about recognition and equating of academic qualifications of refugees in Rhino Camp and Nakivale Refugee Settlements. WIU is taking lead in creating awareness and sensitisation to address the knowledge and information gaps on the process of recognition and equating foreign certificates that currently prevails among majority of refugees in Uganda.

Two stakeholder workshops and two radio talk shows have been held in Western Uganda and Western Nile region. Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials have also been produced and disseminated in the respective refugee settlements. These were produced in English, French, Swahili and Juba Arabic to cater to the different language needs of refugees in the two settlements.

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