South Sudan Refugees Swamp Uganda: Uganda At 'Breaking Point'

Pauline Nyaluok and her five children left war-torn South Sudan and navigated their way to a refugee camp in North Uganda where they assumed they'd be welcomed with open arms. Two of her children died on the way.

USA Today reported that, in the past, Uganda has been very generous to people fleeing violence and, unlike Kenya and other East African nations where refugees are restricted to camps, Uganda has offered refugees free health care, education, and even given them land to farm and build a new home.

But today, this open-door policy is failing, and Uganda is struggling to cope with refugees from South Sudan. Seven hundred thousand South Sudanese refugees have been caught up in the three-year civil war, plus there are refugees trying to escape the violence in other countries, like Burundi. So now the pressure is on the camps in Uganda, struggling to provide adequate food, water, medical care, and shelter. Today, many of the vulnerable in these camps are struggling to survive.

Pauline Nyaluok, 43-years-old, is getting desperate, saying that she hadn't eaten for a week.

"There's not enough food, water and toilets. I have been skipped twice for a monthly allotment of grains because of the huge number of people living here. My children are feeling very hungry, and I have nowhere to live."
It was just one year ago that there were only a few huts dotted around the northern Ugandan town of Bidi Bidi, but today, according to the United Nations, more than 200,000 South Sudanese refugees live in camps there. In fact, this camp, which only opened last summer, has become one of the largest refugee settlements in the world.Apollo Kazungu, the Ugandan Commissioner in charge of refugees, said that many refugees are getting "half rations."
"We don't have enough food to feed all the refugees and some are getting half rations of corn meal and beans. We are very hospitable as a country and our people are friendly to refugees, but allocating them plots [of land] may not be possible if they continue to arrive daily due to violence. We are now building dormitories for them."
According to Kazungu, the Government is preparing to house more South Sudanese refugees by building three more camps in northern Uganda, but he admits that the situation has become dire. The fighting in South Sudan has created the third-largest refugee crisis, after Afghanistan's conflict and the civil war in Syria.

Bornwell Kantande is the United Nations representative to Uganda.

"The people of South Sudan are suffering, as we've seen by the record numbers that have fled to Uganda and other neighboring countries in recent weeks."
Sadly, 64 percent of new arrivals at the Bidi Bidi camp are children, while around 20 percent are women. Many new arrivals carry scars from fighting in their home countries.

Jasina Nyapal is a mother of three from Juba, the capital of South Sudan. She said her family was attacked by militants this year. There is a long history of ethnic violence in South Sudan among its varied groups.

"My husband was shot dead because he was from a Nuer ethnic tribe. I had to flee on foot with my children until I found buses taking people across the border to register as refugees in Uganda. We passed several groups of rebel and government soldiers on the way who could demand that we identify ourselves by our tribes. I saw soldiers raping young girls and shooting anyone on sight."
It was only in 2011 that South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan, making it a relatively young country, but by the end of 2013, the country was in a civil war. Last March, it looked like South Sudan was moving towards peace, but then in July, 2016, violence again rocked the capital when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir clashed outside the presidential palace with people loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar.

For Pauline Nyaluok, she'll never return to her native country, regardless of how many challenges she must face in Uganda.

"I can't go back home. I would rather die here of hunger than face bullets and rape."
The Sudan Tribune reported that Uganda is at breaking point, with around 3,000 South Sudan refugees entering the country each day.

The United Nations says that a minimum of $250 million is urgently needed to support refugees in Uganda. Filippo Grandi is the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. He says that the number of refugees in Uganda will go beyond one million before the middle of 2017, and has appealed for assistance from the international community.

"We are at a breaking point. Uganda cannot handle Africa's largest refugee crisis alone. The lack of international attention to the suffering of the South Sudanese people is failing some of the most vulnerable people in the world when they most desperately need our help."
Ruhakana Rugunda, the Ugandan Prime Minister, said the surge in refugees has placed a huge strain on infrastructure and public services, with clean water and food running very short.
"We continue to welcome our neighbors in their time of need, but we urgently need the international community to assist as the situation is becoming increasingly critical."
According to a UNHCR report, 572,000 new refugees have arrived in Uganda since July, 2016, with 172,000 arriving this year alone.

Babar Baloch is a spokesperson for UNHCR. He believes the international community has failed Uganda whilst it tries to deal with the most serious refugee crisis Africa has experienced. Meanwhile, Uganda has a very progressive approach to dealing with refugees, and the government and host community have both displayed outstanding generosity towards people fleeing conflict and war.

"Inside South Sudan, there is insecurity, food shortages and gross human rights abuses. This is what has prompted these people to flee to Uganda and safety. The government is open to welcoming refugees and the host nation is sharing land and resources with the South Sudanese. But the world is failing the refugee hosts and the world's most vulnerable refugees as well."
South Sudan's ongoing civil war began in December, 2013, over a struggle for power between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, and the result is that almost two million people have been displaced and tens of thousands of people have died.

[Featured Image by Vlad Karavaev/Shutterstock]