South Sudanese refugees fleeing to Uganda. 85% of the refugees are women and children. Note what the women are carrying as their vital necessities.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Uganda has been one of the most accommodating countries in Africa for accepting and dealing with refugees. Each refugee is give a 20 meter (22 yards) by 20 meter plot of land with materials to build a house on the plot and cultivate a garden. Food is provided for a year. But more importantly the refugees are integrated into Ugandan society as they have access to Ugandan health care facilities and schools, can work or start business, and can move freely throughout Uganda. This is in contrast to the Kakuma and Dadaab Refugee Camps in Kenya where the refugees cannot leave the camps without authorization, cannot hold jobs or businesses outside the camps, and are essentially held in open air prisons.

Since 2016 there has been major fighting in South Sudan, particular in the area just north of Uganda.  As of August last year Uganda had accepted 1 million refugees from South Sudan, about 8% of South Sudan’s twelve million people. Another million South Sudanese have fled to other surrounding countries, and almost two million more are internally displaced. This totals almost one third of the population of South Sudan. In addition in 2017 there was a major drought in South Sudan. Unfortunately, although there are ongoing discussions in Addis Abba to solve the many issues involved, a viable political resolution remains elusive so this misery will continue.

In comparison, in 2017 under the first year of the Trump administration, the United States, which has a population eight times the size of Uganda, admitted 29,022 refugees. If these South Sudanese entering Uganda were crossing the border into the US, they would be called “illegal immigrants” and dealt with accordingly. This illustrates how “poor” spiritually the United States has become. Moreover UNHCR asked for donations in order to give these South Sudanese refugees 13 kilograms (29 pounds) of food per month per person, but, when they received only about 20% of the US$700 million needed, rations were cut first to 6 kilograms (13 pounds) and then to 4 kilograms (9 pounds). This is well below the amount needed to survive. Now the Trump administration is cutting back US donations for refugee relief such as this. The United States with its $700 billion dollars allocation for the military is now best known for its stinginess! Ironically the independence of mostly Christian South Sudan from mostly Muslim Sudan was a “project” of the US War on Terror, but South Sudan, after its independence, was put on the back burner by the US government and has yet to develop a viable government and country even though it is well endowed with oil for export.

Districts in northern Uganda with number of South Sudanese refugees as of July 1, 2017.

I had read reports that the local northern Ugandan populations, which are some of the poorest people in Uganda, were resenting this large influx of refugees and in some cases the Ugandan government was forcing the refugees to return to South Sudan. I asked Ocayotoo Emmanuel of Gulu, just south of the concentration of refugees, and HROC-Uganda coordinator, to investigate actual conditions of the refugees. Here is his report:

“After meeting with at least two South Sudanese refugees and interviewing them I was able to see clearly their conditions here in Gulu and a little on the camps of Adjumani in West Nile region and Moyo camp at the Uganda-Sudan border.

“The first person was a South Sudanese student who is living in my neighborhood and we go to the same church.

Christine happily receiving a school calculator from HROC facilitator, Emmanuel.

I am Christine form South Sudan. I footed together with our family up to Moyo at the border [of South Sudan and Uganda – see map above]. We were preparing to start school when the war broke out and we left for Uganda. Our family is scattered because both my mother and father are not together now and beside I am not living with either of them.

The conditions at the camp were so bad because there is hatred from the Madi tribe of Uganda, diseases outbreaks, and death. My aunt wanted us to go somewhere else but we waited to first be registered at the camp. I started school in Moyo and it was hard for me and my fellow South Sudanese because we are called names like “refugees”, “thieves”, etc. and we couldn’t do anything together with the Madi students.

After registering we came to Gulu and started renting which is more peaceful because people here love us just like their brothers and sisters. From here I look good to everybody and interact with anyone but at the camp we stayed with fear because previously the Madi had fought with the Kuku from South Sudan and the hatred is never ending. If a South Sudanese falls sick and is taken to the Ugandan health center, they don’t treat the sick person and most times the South Sudanese dies.

I hope someday the war will end and we return home.

“The second Sudanese refugee I talked to was in the outskirts of Gulu town where the refugees are densely populated and renting single rooms in semi-permanent houses at 150,000 Uganda shillings (US$42) per month. The place is called Kasubu Smallgate near the 4th division army barracks in Gulu.

Adjumani Refugee Camp, Northern Uganda

I am Nyele. My family is scattered. My mother is at ADJUMANI CAMP and I am here in Gulu while my dad is remaining in South Sudan with the army. I lived in the camp before but I have stayed in Gulu for at least a year now. I came because the life at the camp is unbearable to me, but here we are loved by the Acholi [the local Ugandan tribe].

I cannot get a job because I didn’t go to school even when my family sent me in 2005 to Uganda for schooling. Since the money wasn’t enough, I stopped.

I just stay home all day long and survive on money sent by my dad who is a soldier in South Sudan. The money becomes in small amounts after transfer rates are deducted. As a favor my landlord in Gulu can allow us to stay for even as long as five months without paying rent because she knows we shall always pay when we get the money.

At the camp we were given everything but with time when many people came from South Sudan the food ration was reduced from 6 kilograms (13 pounds) per head to even 4 kilograms (9 pounds). This complicated our life.

Here in Gulu I cook once and skip once to buy me time since I don’t know whether daddy will send money or not because his salary sometimes delays for as long as five months.

“I used an audio recorder to record and keep me from misquoting their stories while they narrated how their life is going on in Uganda.

“None of them confirmed deportation back to South Sudan by the Ugandan government and they said many of their fellows returned to the camps after running out of money and failing to afford the life at Gulu town which is so expensive despite being the safest place.”


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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region. He is an analyst on eastern Africa issues for TVC News in Lagos, Nigeria.


David Zarembka

Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC)

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