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Possibly the most striking change in northern Uganda since the LRA withdrew its forces has been the ability of civilians to leave displacement camps and return home or resettle. At the height of the conflict, over 90 percent of the population were displaced and living in squalid camps, some for over a decade. In 2007 the majority of the population continued to live in major camps (62%), while 27 percent lived in smaller transit camps, or new sites, nearer to their villages of origin, and 11 percent lived in urban centers.[1] In 2010, based on the random selection of populated places, a majority of respondents lived in villages (83%), while 9 percent lived in former transit camps or new sites, 5 percent lived in urban areas, and 4 percent lived in former camps. Not surprisingly, it was in resettlement sites and former camps that the highest proportion of respondents reported being currently displaced (respectively 32% and 42%), while less than 5 percent of respondents in villages and urban areas did so.

Resettlement is a challenging process requiring capital and assets to rebuild dwellings and resume livelihood activities. However, among the population, only 7 percent of those who were no longer displaced said they received assistance to resettle. For those still displaced, the main obstacles to resettlement were the lack of a house or money to build one (15%), or the fact that their house was destroyed (14%). Other reasons for not yet resettling included fear (14%), a need for further preparation for the move back to their village (e.g., building huts and clearing land 14%), and disputes over land (11%). A majority of respondents identified the Local Council (LC1, 35%), Resident District Commissioner (32%), and Chief Administrative Officer (28%) as being responsible for arranging their return.

Figure 10: Resettlement

Figure 10 - Resettlement

While 8 percent of the population considered themselves displaced, a slightly higher proportion (11%) planned to move in 2010. This suggests there may be some population movement among non-displaced individuals, including those living in villages, municipalities, and new settlement sites. One in three individuals (67%) currently displaced planned to move in 2010, compared to 6 percent among those who were not currently displaced. As would be expected, the proportion of those planning to move was highest in new sites and former camps. Most of those planning to move (82%) were planning to return to their home village, while 9 percent planned to move to a town.

The 2007 Uganda data suggested that IDPs, like refugees, based their decisions to move, in part, on a cognitive comparison of conditions at their current places of residence with conditions at other potential locations.[2] In 2010 we asked respondents what they thought was good and bad about their current location. Respondents in villages most frequently said what they valued about their place of settlement the was the ability to dig (77%), freedom (67%) and security (48%). The same advantages were associated with new settlement sites, albeit a little less frequently. Digging was seldom mentioned among respondents in urban areas, but security and freedom were still frequently mentioned among the good aspects of settling there. Of all the settlement types, it was in former camps that the highest proportion of respondents found nothing good about the place (34%). Inversely, looking at what respondents found to be bad about their place of settlement, respondents in villages most frequently said inadequate access to water (44%) and health   care services (31%).

Negative perceptions of health care, access to water, and access to food or education most likely reflect the lack of basic services in return areas. These gaps, in turn, threaten the ability of returnees to rebuild their communities fully, and grievances may arise if these concerns are left unaddressed. Additional questions were included in the survey to explore the perception of services.

Figure 11: Comparative Perception of Settlement

Figure 11 - Comparative Perception of Settlement

[1] Vinck P, Pham PN. Peace-Building and Displacement in Northern Uganda: A Cross-sectional Study of Intentions to Move and Attitudes towards Former Combatants, Refugee Survey Quarterly 2009; 28 (1): 59-77.

[2] Vinck P, Pham PN, 2009 at n25