The number of refugees and internally-displaced people (IDPs) has been increasing in the world. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),117.2 million people will be forcibly displaced or stateless in 2023. Especially, the refugee population in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 1.1 million (22 percent) in 2017 mainly due to the crisis in South Sudan, from where more than 1 million people fled primarily to Sudan and Uganda (UNHCR 2019).
Uganda is considered one of the most tolerant countries for refugees. As of 2019, more than 1.4 million refugees and asylum seekers reside in the country (UNHCR 2019). Historically, Uganda has taken an open-door policy towards new refugee arrivals which gives refugees freedom of movement, the right to work and establish a business, and access to social services, such as healthcare and education. The Government of Uganda has allocated a small piece of land within the camp to new refugees. Local communities nearby the refugee settlements (called host communities) share resources and services with refugees, such as water, schools, and health facilities. Some of local Ugandans also rent or borrow out their agricultural land to refugees.
Given that most of the refugees rely on agriculture in their home countries, enhancing access to agricultural land is important to improve their livelihood and to promote refugees’ economic independence. At the same time, developing a peaceful relationship between refugees and host communities is crucial for the welfare of both parties.
The main purpose of this study is to investigate the impact of the formalization of the land rental agreement on the access to land for refugees and conflict prevention and resolution between refugees and hosts. To do so, we take the case of Rhino Camp, Arua district, Uganda where refugees have rented farmland from host communities but some of them have experienced land-related disputes. As there is no effective medication mechanism, NGO called Norweigian Refugee Council (NRC) has recently introduced and implemented a formalized land rental agreement in a part of the camp. Both tenants (refugees) and landlords (Ugandans) sign an agreement that states the rental fee and period in front of the village chiefs and the refugee block leaders who play the role of witnesses and mediators. Although this seems to reduce land disputes, this is not compulsory. As there is a transaction cost of signing an agreement, the landlords may refuse to rent out land to refugees who demand signing a formal agreement. Another methodological challenge rises as demand for a formal agreement can be affected by tenants’ experience of land disputes and decree of risk aversion, which makes us difficult to identify the causal impact on the prevention of future land disputes.
To overcome this challenge, we conduct a randomized control trial. First of all, we conduct a baseline household interview with 308 refugees in blocks where a formalization agreement has not been introduced. Then, we randomly assign refugees into two groups: (1) the control group which does not receive any intervention (105 refugees); (2) the treatment group which receives detailed information on formal land rental agreements and the support for making a formal land rental agreement (203 refugees). By using this randomly assigned treatment status as an instrumental variable (IV), we can investigate the impact of the formal land rental agreement on the access to land for refugees and conflict prevention and resolution between refugees and hosts.