Uganda welcomes Sudan refugees
KAMPALA — As Europeans pontificate the pros and cons of allowing desperate refugees into their countries, Uganda, a poor country with a fraction of the resources of many European countries, has an open-door refugee policy and is helping many African refugees to rebuild their lives.
“Uganda has the most progressive policy towards refugees in all of Africa,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Protection Officer in Adjumani, near the South Sudan border, Akiko Tsujisawa told the African News Agency (ANA).
“It not only allows refugees to come into the country but helps them to rebuild their lives by giving them land to cultivate in resettlement camps and access to social services,” said Tsujisawa.
The UNHCR is working with the Ugandan government in Adjumani to help approximately 132 000 South Sudanese refugees who have fled the violence in South Sudan.
“Uganda has a long history of helping refugees starting with Jewish refugees who escaped the Nazis during the Second World War,” said Titus Jogo, Ugandan government Refugee Desk Officer for refugees in Adjumani
“We’ve been taking in refugees for decades from South Sudan, the Congo, the Central African Republic (CAR), Rwanda and Burundi,” Jogo told ANA.
“But we also know what it’s like to be the source of refugees. Thousands of Ugandans of Indian origin were expelled from the country under Idi Amin’s rule during the 70s. Thousands of other Ugandans also fled the slaughter.
“Our 2006 Refugee Law Policy guides our treatment of refugees and it is human-rights based. The policy involves freedom of movement and the right to social services such as medical treatment and education,” Jogo told ANA.
On their arrival, South Sudanese refugees are allocated 30 x 30 m2 plots of land to farm by the Ugandan government.
Much of the land is provided by the villagers of Adjumani, a poor rural community without access to electricity or running water for the most part.
Due to the generosity of the Adjumani vil- lagers, two South Sudanese refugees who barely escaped with their lives, and their families, now see a future.
“They didn’t shoot me dead because they mistook me for being a Nuer as I could speak their language,” said Doctor Jacob Kuanyin, an ethnic Dinka, who was working at a government hospital in Bor, the capital of Sudan’s Jonglei state before he fled to Uganda.
A two-year civil war, between supporters of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and supporters of former opposition leader Riek Machar, raged for two years from 2013 until Machar returned in late April to the Capital Juba to take up his position as vice president of a unity transitional government.
“Last December gunmen supporting Machar raided the hospital where I was working. They then proceeded to divide the people according to whether they were Nuer or Dinka,” Kuanyin told ANA.
“They shot those identified as Dinka, including health workers and even the wounded. But after mistakenly identifying me as a Nuer they left their wounded fighters under my care. I saw bodies from both sides lining the streets.
“During a lull in the fighting I fled to Uganda with my wife and three children. I was given land and a loan from the UNHCR and the Ugandan government and I’ve now set up a small medical clinic in Nyumanzi settlement,” said Kuanyin.
Chorl Manyok, 36, a married father of three and an ethnic Dinka, now runs a small grocery store in Nyumanzi Settlement.
“I fled South Sudan in 2014 after my parents were shot dead by gunmen. We had to hide in the bush for days and then travel for several days to reach the Ugandan border,” Manyok told ANA.
According to UNHCR more than 20 000 refugees fled the world’s newest country during 2015.
Now not only is Manyok’s business growing but he is now going to business school.
However, despite the enormous improvement in the quality of their lives, South Sudanese face numerous problems.
Kuanyin said he needed more medicines to treat his patients and many of them were suffering from psychological trauma.
The health centres being run by the UNHCR in Adjumani’s 17 refugee settlements are very basic and battling several diseases including malaria.
“Not enough South Sudanese children are being enrolled in secondary school due to funding and bursary shortages. There are also insufficient classrooms and teaching materials for the school children with many classes conducted in tents,” Tsujisawa told ANA.
“The rigid cultural attitude among refugees has been an impediment. Child marriages, domestic violence and rape are condoned by the community leadership where traditional methods of dispute resolution take precedence,” reported the UNHCR.
In response, the UNHCR has initiated the roll out of Start Awareness Support Action (SASA) methodology which involves a self-examination process of all categories of community members including men and is expected to achieve results in the long run.
Jogo said environmental degradation as land was cleared for agricultural plots for the refugees was a problem.
“The trees will not grow fast enough to replenish the forest destroyed and our land resources are not finite. Additionally Uganda has a high birth rate with a fast-growing population,” Jogo told ANA.
“We also have funding shortages as international donors suffer from donor fatigue, especially with the Syrian refugee crisis.
“My hope is that there will be peace in South Sudan and the refugees will be willingly repatriated as we had not expected them to stay indefinitely,” said Jogo.
However, the UN has reported that the number of refugees fleeing South Sudan has spiked dramatically since the formation of the transitional unity government.
“The increase in refugees is a reflection of the continued fighting, insecurity and uncertainty,” Tsujisawa told ANA.
“I will never return to South Sudan while Riek Machar is alive,” Manyok told ANA.
— African News Agency
Almost 80,000 South Sudanese flee to neighbouring countries as fighting generates more displacement.