First things first, happy new month of July 2020. Probably welcome to Jumanji level 2? It all depends on what level you are on now given the varying partial lock downs in most countries around the world.

June is fast gone and done with, especially the national and global holidays that came with it. That is the National Heroes Day for Uganda on 9th June and the World Refugee day that was on 20th June, 2020.

In a space of one month, we saw the number of refugees in Uganda grow from 1,395,830 refugees in April to 1,424,373 by 31st May. 

That is a 28,543 increase amidst restrictive measures at the country’s borders due to the COVID19 global pandemic.

If a global pandemic can paralyze everything else but not the need for asylum and refugee due to forced migration, then it is high time we deliberately refocused on listening to the stories of refugees around the world in order to make informed decisions on what needs to be done to best manage forced migration situations.

As a documentary photojournalist and communications practitioner, I choose to renew my commitment to keep sharing the stories of refugees in Uganda the best way possible, to help them express their truth and make sure that truth is heard and seen.

A group of refugee women go about their daily chores in Gulu district. Photo taken in August 2019 by Watsemba Miriam.

This year I celebrate Cezirina Keji whose story I shared in 2019, thanks to support from Refugee Law Project and Media Challenge Initiative. Cezirina’s story will be exhibited by Entree in Norway under the theme ‘My Mother is Forgetting me’ starting 28th August, 2020.

The exhibition not only means financial support for Cezirina, but also a global representation of the naked truths of the stories of refugees in East Africa. It means refugees in areas as remote as Adjumani in Uganda, get to have voice, space and audience at the international table. Nothing fills my heart more than such stories owning spaces at the high tables.

If you have not yet read Cezirina’s story, check out ‘Beyond the Scars.’ 

Every story counts , and  every action counts, so let’s look beyond the statistics and see the people behind the numbers for who they really are – humans with valid stories that need to be heard.

Cezirina Keji, 46 in Gulu District. Photo taken in August 2019, by Watsemba Miriam.

Following the world refugee day this year, we saw refugee stories receive coverage throughout the month on Television that climaxed with a televised discussion on NTV that was moderated by Romeo Busiku (NTV News Anchor) and graced by the presence of Gerald Menya the Commissioner  for refugees in Uganda, Robert Hakiza the Executive Director of YARID (Young African Refugees for Integral Development) and Devota Nuwe the Head of Programme at Refugee Law Project and member of the World Refugee Council.

Among the key issues raised were the rights of refugees especially the right to work and to intellectual property, travel, education and ownership of property.

Robert Hakiza was big on illustrating institutional discrimination against refugees in Uganda but uploaded the honesty of entities such as the Kampala City Council Authority for having acknowledged the lack of a deliberate effort to support refugees in 2017 and have since then started incorporating the account of refugees in their annual city plans.

Gerald Menya (Commissioner of Refugees in Uganda) on the other hand was emphatic on the need to incorporate refugee response into the school curriculum in Uganda so as to best prepare communities for life with refugees.

The need for Psycho-social support was a big gap pointed out by Devota Nuwe who also focused on the plight of refugees during COVID19 pandemic. In Romeo Busiku’s words, ‘…if things have become three times harder for Ugandans because of COVID19, how much more for the refugees, five times?…’

Here are snippets of the conversation from twitter.

Fast forward after the mainstream conversations and reminders on the statistics about the One million and Four hundred refugees in Uganda – when all is said and done, the lives of refugees remain. Their stories are still as real, valid and need to be heard and seen.

As we move on from June, there is a need to remember that the lives of refugees have not necessarily moved on. More than ever, refugees need to be supported to tell their own stories and own their narratives both in the mainstream and digital media space.

In addressing the nation about CoronaVirus, the President of Uganda; Yoweri Kaguta Museveni remarked, ‘…inorder to know where the enemy is coming from, we need to first keep quiet and listen…’ in justification for the need of a partial lock down as a way to identify the red flag points of the pandemic in the country.

Similarly,  if we as a global people are ever going to holistically address the  issues surrounding refugees and asylum seekers in the world, we are going to need to slow down and really listen to the life stories behind and beyond the statistics in the media.

Why do they leave their homes? How did they end up here? What are their goals and dreams in life? Who is their family? When is it okay to let go and start over? Where do they want to go from here?

All these are questions whose answers we need to hear from refugees speak for themselves and by themselves before we hope onto another #worldrefugeeday hashtag. If “all action counts” as was the theme for this year’s world refugee day, then every single story of refugees counts a big deal in shaping the decision making process on issues concerning forced migration in the world.


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3 years ago

Wooow so beautiful and rich!!!

Martina Thembo
3 years ago

Wow this is very insightful, we surely need to see beyond the Statistics

3 years ago

What an inspiring story about refugees! It is so amazing that we who have not been removed or moved from our own mother land don’t know how it feels to be housed in a camp,it takes a big 💓 heart like this one of Miriam to put your self in their shoes and come up with such an eye opener that requires action to improve their quality of life. Bravo Miriam keep the candle burning!!!!!!