War refugees fill boom­ing camps

Nearly 440K peo­ple have fled South Su­dan

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY JUSTIN LYNCH

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, have taken aim at civil­ians.

In his last steps on South Su­danese soil, Mr. Is­sac passed a group of rag­tag 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 en­tire 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 U.N. 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.

The camps are bulging even as a U.S.-backed res­o­lu­tion im­pos­ing an arms em­bargo on the coun­try and sanc­tion­ing top lead­ers failed last week to gain enough sup­port for pas­sage in the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. The United States could not even win over its ally Ja­pan, which last month de­ployed troops to a U.N. peace­keep­ing mis­sion in South Su­dan.

“The coun­cil mem­bers who didn’t sup­port this res­o­lu­tion are tak­ing a big gam­ble that South Su­dan’s lead­ers will not in­sti­gate a catas­tro­phe,” said U.S. Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, Sa­man­tha Power. “It is the peo­ple of South Su­dan who will pay an un­bear­able price.”

But Chi­nese U.N. Amb. Wu Haitao said his coun­try was “not in fa­vor of us­ing sanc­tions to ex­ert pres­sure on de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.”

“There needs to be pru­dent ac­tions with re­spect to em­bar­goes and des­ig­na­tions to avoid com­pli­cat­ing the sit­u­a­tion even fur­ther in South Su­dan,” Mr. Wu said.

When the refugees ar­rive in set­tle­ments here set up by the U.N., some like 18-year-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, Ms. 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 Associated Press 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 coun­tries in the re­gion, Uganda has em­braced the refugees, ac­cord­ing to Char­lie Yax­ley, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency.

“Many Ugan­dans them­selves have pre­vi­ously been refugees, and you typ­i­cally hear ex­pres­sions of sol­i­dar­ity from the Ugan­dan peo­ple,” Mr. Yax­ley said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A group of chil­dren and adults gather around a bore­hole in a refugee set­tle­ment in Bidi Bidi, Uganda. About 440,000 peo­ple have fled South Su­dan’s spi­ral­ing civil war into Uganda this year alone.

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