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Uganda, UN appeal for S.Sudan refugees

Sabine Bohland
June 22, 2017

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and UN chief Antonio Guterres will on Friday host a conference to raise funds for South Sudanese refugees. Nearly one million have crossed into Uganda since conflict broke out in 2013.

Refugee students inside a makeshift classroom (Sheila Mysorekar)
Image: DW/Sheila Mysorekar

They come with the little they could save from their homes having fled war and famine. They come in their thousands, every day.  The border between South Sudan and Uganda is controlled, but officials there allow all refugees to enter.

More than 900,000 South Sudanese refugees are sheltering on plots of land often donated by Ugandans. Uganda's refugee policy has been called one of the most progressive in the world because refugees are allowed freedom of movement and can operate their own businesses.

However, the continuing influx of South Sudanese refugees is starting to test the limits of Uganda's generosity as it exerts a lot of pressure on the available resources.

Uganda has a model refugee policy. After being registered in a camp, most refugees are given a piece of land. Maria Lalum and her grandchildren have been living in northern Uganda since the beginning of the year. She said her hope of returning is growing slimmer with each passing day.

''It's the third time I have had to leave my country. First, because of the conflict with Sudan and now this war,'' Lalum said. ''Both my children and my grandchildren were born in refugee camps,'' she said, adding that only a really solid government could convince her to return to her home country. ''But I don't think that will happen in my lifetime.''

Life as a refugee

Despite the small piece of land, life in northern Uganda is hard. Maria Lalum has to get by with just four kilos of corn flour a week for eight members of her family. Nevertheless, after being separated while fleeing, the family is happy just to be together.

South Sudan refugees in Uganda.
Most of the refugees from South Sudan are women and childrenImage: Getty Images/AFP/I. Kasamani

After South Sudan gained independence in 2011, hopes for peace were high. But the people were to be bitterly disappointed. Just two years later, the country descended into civil war. Okot Ben Carson, one of the refugees, shared his frustrations: ''Our hope was for the development of our country. To make good relationships and business with our neighbors, but they have to really see the struggle of the people, the suffering.''

Uganda's open-door policy is increasingly putting a strain on the country. It now desperately needs international aid to cope with the new arrivals. Khamis Khamis, UNHCR regional health officer, explained how Uganda had gotten to this place.

''When you integrate refugees with the host population you cannot discriminate. You want that ability to provide services to both host populations and the refugees. At the same time, given the economic situations in our developing world, we are already struggling,'' Khamis said.

Dwindling resources

Water, for example, is in short supply in the north of the country. Adequate food supplies, schools and medicine are needed for hundreds of thousands of people.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Thursday visited one of the refugee camps alongside UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Uganda and the world body are seeking $8 billion (7 billion euros) in funding to cope with the refugee crisis.

Women pump water at a borehole
Water is becoming scarce as more and more refugees pour in from South SudanImage: Getty Images/D. Kitwood

This week, a UN-backed conference that aims to raise awareness and funds for the refugees will take place in Kampala.

The UN said the money is required to cater for emergency aid and also resilience interventions. The funds will support both the refugees and host communities for the next four years.

UNICEF has referred to the South Sudan refugee crisis as "a children's crisis," since most of the refugees are women and children.

By May, less than a fifth of the $673 million the UN needs for its relief work in Uganda had been received. But despite the financial strain, Uganda's door remains open to those in need.

(cm) AFP/dpa