South Su­danese cre­ate boom­ing camps in Uganda

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BIDI BIDI CAMP, Uganda: “I don’t want to go back,” James Is­sac de­clared, just min­utes af­ter be­com­ing a refugee. “I don’t want to die.” For two days, the slen­der 30-year-old from South Su­dan’s Equa­to­ria re­gion nav­i­gated his way out of civil war, rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle along dirt roads and avoid­ing gov­ern­ment sol­diers who, ac­cord­ing to ac­counts by refugees to The As­so­ci­ated Press, have taken aim at civil­ians. In his last steps on South Su­danese soil, Is­sac passed a group of rag-tag rebel sol­diers and crossed a rick­ety bridge into Uganda, and safety.

“I am happy,” he said, as Ugan­dan sol­diers searched his be­long­ings for con­tra­band. “There (are) no prob­lems here.” He is one of 440,000 refugees who have fled South Su­dan’s spi­ral­ing con­flict into Uganda this year alone, cre­at­ing some of the world’s largest refugee camps in just six months’ time. More than one mil­lion refugees have fled South Su­dan, spilling across bor­ders in East Africa as the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity warns that the con­flict and its eth­nic vi­o­lence could desta­bi­lize the re­gion. Since fight­ing erupted in South Su­dan’s cap­i­tal, Juba, in July and left a peace agree­ment in tat­ters, the world’s youngest coun­try has ex­pe­ri­enced eth­nic cleans­ing and teeters on the brink of geno­cide, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. Those flee­ing have turned Uganda’s north­west from an empty bush­land into a sprawl­ing com­plex of refugee set­tle­ments. The largest, Bidi Bidi, is a pop-up city that holds roughly 260,000 peo­ple weary of war. Last week the UN an­nounced the Bidi Bidi camp had stopped tak­ing new ar­rivals be­cause it was full, and it di­rected South Su­danese to nearby lo­ca­tions.

The refugees “were in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. Bul­lets re­main­ing in their legs. Others had come with parts am­pu­tated. Others were se­verely bleed­ing,” re­called Ru­faaaya Asiy­ati, a nu­tri­tion spe­cial­ist work­ing at the border cross­ing for the Ugan­dan gov­ern­ment. Roughly 20 per­cent of those un­der 5 years old are se­verely mal­nour­ished, she said. Most of the refugees are women and chil­dren. When the refugees ar­rive in set­tle­ments set up by the UN, some like 18year-old Har­riet Guo are alone and must fend for them­selves. The refugees are given sup­plies to build shel­ters and must set them up them­selves. Like others in the camp, Guo tells sto­ries of bru­tal vi­o­lence that forced her to flee South Su­dan. “There is war there, and here there is peace,” she said. Many of the refugees come from Yei, where the AP vis­ited in Novem­ber and heard sto­ries of gov­ern­ment sol­diers killing, rap­ing and ar­rest­ing civil­ians based on their eth­nic­ity.

Some civil­ians also said that rebel sol­diers would take money or phones from peo­ple flee­ing to Uganda. “There are so many peo­ple who are shot dead by un­known gun­men, and when you are ar­rested by armed per­son­nel your where­abouts can­not be found,” said Ta­ban Jackson, a com­mu­nity leader in the Bidi Bidi camp and a for­mer mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cial in Yei.

Un­like other coun­ties in the re­gion, Uganda has em­braced the refugees, ac­cord­ing to Char­lie Yax­ley, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency. “Many Ugan­dans them­selves have pre­vi­ously been refugees, and you typ­i­cally hear ex­pres­sions of sol­i­dar­ity from the Ugan­dan peo­ple,” Yax­ley said. Ma­liki Drakuma is one of them. The town clerk of the lo­cal Yumbe gov­ern­ment and the owner of a mo­bile phone store near the refugee set­tle­ments, he said the sud­den in­flux of South Su­danese has brought eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment to the bar­ren re­gion.

He ac­knowl­edged that some ser­vices have been stressed by the sud­den flow of refugees, and po­lice now carry out more pa­trols. But Drakuma com­pared the nearby border to a “two-way street” be­cause he and many other Ugan­dans had been refugees them­selves. “We would love the refugees to stay for longer,” he said.

BIDI BIDI, Uganda: In this Dec 10, 2016 photo, a group of chil­dren and adults gather around a bore-hole in the Bidi bidi refugee set­tle­ment.

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