Uganda, UN Appeal for $8 Billion For South Sudan Refugees

By Sabine Bohland

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.

Juba, South Sudan, 2016 UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Juba, South Sudan, 2016 UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

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.

Refugee crisis tests Uganda’s generosity

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 to just be together.

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 can not 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.


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