27/1/2014 – When Rebeka Chol arrived in central Uganda at the beginning of this year, her only thoughts were about the rest of her family still hiding in the United Nations (UN) compound in Juba. Fleeing the violence that recently erupted in South Sudan’s capital, Chol together with four children and five grandchildren, crossed the border in Nimule entering northern Uganda’s Elegu before arriving in Kiryandongo Settlement after a week of walking and travelling by bus.
Chol explains “There is a war and many people have been killed.” She adds “Many Nuer people have been killed by the Dinkas – I have lost four family members.”
She also describes Kiryandongo settlement, saying it is not good for her – there is not enough water or food and life is not easy here.
Meanwhile in northern Uganda, Rebecca Bol, her sister Elizabeth Akur and their five children are among the 27 000 who are crammed into Dzaipei Transit centre, a space designed for 400 people in Adjumani. Bol and her family fled Bor town in Jonglei State and arrived in Adjumani after a week of walking, boat rides and buses.
Bol explains, “Armed men are killing children and civilians in Bor town. It is a tribe called the Nuer, the former vice President, Riak Machar’s tribe, that are killing all the Dinka.” Bol adds “I cannot go back while I know that people are dying. Fifteen of my relatives have been killed in Bor, including my nephew.”
A ceasefire was announced a few days ago. The political crisis, which started in Juba over a month ago, has left in its wake over half a million people uprooted from their homes. Signed in Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa, the truce is meant to quell the ethnic driven violence across many parts of the world’s newest country which gained independence almost three years ago. Heavy fighting between pro and anti government forces has left thousands dead, thousands injured and some 100 000 Southern Sudanese seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, roughly half of those in Uganda.
A team from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) drove seven hours from Kampala in Uganda to the northern border point between South Sudan and Uganda, Elegu, where up to 2 500 Southern Sudanese are arriving daily. ECHO’s humanitarian advisers visited refugee reception centres and refugee settlements in the area.
Field Officers of the United Nation’s Refugee Agency, UNHCR, explain that Rebecca Bol, like many others, is waiting to be moved to the new Nuymansi Settlement a few kilometres away, allocated by the Government of Uganda.
With the scale of the crisis, there are shortages of water, shelter, food and sanitation services. The World Food Programme is having to cut rations of other refugees in Uganda in order to feed the new arrivals fleeing violence in South Sudan.
Humanitarian organisations are concerned that tensions are very high in many parts of the country and that if the fighting does not abate, many more Southern Sudanese could arrive, surpassing any contingency planning.
The UN agencies, who work together, explain that the Uganda Government has a generous refugee policy that recognises the rights of refugees to live within settlements (a cluster of rural villages) rather than camps, move within the country and work.
However, this new crisis comes with the backdrop of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan who were already in Uganda – some 200 000 of them. Over 160 000 of them are from eastern DRC, the majority of whom fled fighting between government forces and armed groups.
Humanitarian organisations are scaling up their assistance. This means increasing life-saving help – in South Sudan with almost one million people in need (on top of the 3.1 million before this crisis); its neighbour Uganda with over 40 000 seeking refuge; in Kenya where almost 9 000 Southern Sudanese have sought haven in Kakuma camp arriving approximately 600 per day; and in Ethiopia where over 20 000 have already crossed.
Margaret age six, who ran with her mother from Jonglei to Uganda and lost her father has a clear message. “I want to go back to school, please help me study.” Margaret is just one of many children and youth in the settlements. The UN’s Children’s Agency (UNICEF) says that a larger than normal percentage of the asylum seekers – approximately 90 percent – are women and children.
Malini Morzaria, ECHO Regional Information Officer for Central East and Southern Africa.