Uganda is currently the host to over 535,252 refugees; 224,420 of these refugees are from South Sudan, while the rest are from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi, Somalia and Burundi.
By Moses Arnold Okello
World Refugee Day has been marked on June 20, in a world where violence forces hundreds of families to flee each day, to escape the violence; they leave everything behind - everything except their hopes and dreams for a safer future. Partner organizations believe that all refugees deserve to live in safety.
Uganda is currently the host to over 535,252 refugees; 224,420 of these refugees are from South Sudan, while the rest are from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi, Somalia and Burundi. The Adjumani district alone currently hosts about 134,897 refugees (OPM, RIMS 31st May 2016).
The Government of Uganda (GoU) has a very favourable environment which promotes a non-camp approach to refugee protection and assistance. Since the start of the political crisis in South Sudan in mid-December 2013, Uganda has continued to receive a mass influx of South Sudanese refugees.
The power-sharing agreement, recently brokered among the main protagonists in the South Sudan conflict, presents a likely scenario of continued localized tensions, sporadic outbreaks of fighting and worsening conflict - induced food security with the situation moderately improving in mid-2016; but with continued refugee outflows to Uganda.
This will likely result in increased difficulty in implementing some of the articles of the peace accord, which will willed to more sporadic fighting. This would mean that the refugee influx would continue. Thus there would be a need to address the urgent needs of the new arrivals, whilst continuing to stabilize the situation created by the substantial number of refugees already in Uganda. Spontaneous returns have already been observed, but are not expected to substantially affect the current population figures.
In the context of the South Sudanese refugee influx, the majority of the refugees are hosted on communal land in the West Nile region, and therefore shares the limited resources available with the host communities.
This has placed environmental pressure on limited and fragmented land, and eroded productivity. While at the same time this enabling environment forms the basis for an increasingly developmental and solutions-oriented response programme for the refugees and the host communities. There is therefore need to support the host communities' to build their capacities, to host refugees and to be self-reliant.
Reports by UNHCR indicate that 30,920 new arrivals have entered Uganda since 1 Jan 2016, and 65% of these are children who have a very high rate of malnutrition. Medical Teams International (MTI) recently screened children aged six - 59 months for malnutrition and found prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) at 13.3% (UNHCR standard < 15%) and Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) at 6.0% (UNHCR standard < 3%). Important to note is that Malaria remains the major health concern with 64 % of total patients, while 14 % suffer from acute respiratory infections, and 2% suffers from acute watery diarrhea.
Despite the South Sudanese refugee influx taking on the form of a protracted face requiring a prolonged response as the push factors that caused the refugee influx will require a political solution back home, the South Sudanese refugee crisis has got insufficient attention at the global level due to the merging refugee influx in to Europe in recent months and this has led to inadequate funding. In addition refugees are sometimes disfavored in relation to host communities especially when resources are limited hence one is right to say that the south Sudan refugees are "a forgotten people"
As matter of fact, In the case of the South Sudanese response, there were refugees in Uganda during the long war between Juba and Khartoum which ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 2005. Most of the SS refugees who had run into neighboring countries, including Uganda returned to South Sudan and Ugandan agencies shifted from the recovery and mitigation phase to the preparation stage.
Thereafter when fighting broke out again in December 2013 between the two factions the Sudan People's liberation Movement (SPLM) in Juba, resulted into renewed refugee influx into Northern Uganda, a new emergency phase was triggered, refugees entered Uganda and have been accommodated in refugees' settlements which had long been closed. Due to the high number of the refugees new settlements were opened in Districts of Adjumani, Arua, Koboko etc.
Although the initial wave of refugees entering Uganda dwindled in 2015, the tension surrounding the continuing fighting in various States resulted in a new influx. This now means that while the majority of refugees who entered the District in 2014 and 2015 are more settled and their needs are being addressed in the early recovery phase, the new influx are receiving emergency support- meaning that two phases are in operation simultaneously.
This means programming early recovery for the host population and old case load of refugees (2014 and 2015) while emergency response has been triggered for the new refugees, response has remained a nightmare for many INGOs and NGOs given the little attention and limited funds coming on board for South Sudan refugees.
The INGOs believe that now is the time to show world leaders that the global public stands with refugees, and they will launch the #WithRefugees petition on June 20th to send a message to governments that they must work together and do their fair share for refugees. The petition asks governments to: Ensure every refugee child gets an education; Ensure every refugee family has somewhere safe to live and lastly ensure every refugee can work or learn new skills to make a positive contribution to their community.
The writer is the disaster risk manager of Plan International Uganda