Five Things You Need to Know about the Uganda Refugee Crisis

 South Sudan, Uganda
 AdvocacyEmergency Response,
 16th Jun 2017

Uganda is experiencing the largest refugee crisis in Africa.

Since the spike in violence in South Sudan in the summer of 2016, there has been a major influx of refugees flowing into North West Uganda with over 600,000 arriving over the past year. There are currently around 1,000-2,000 South Sudanese refugees arriving daily. Refugee numbers tend to spike when violence in South Sudan breaks out. With no end in sight to the war and the prevailing famine in South Sudan, the flow of refugees will only continue.

 

Uganda has one of the most progressive, open refugee policies in the world.

The Government of Uganda (GOU) has put in place a comprehensive and exemplary framework for refugees, providing them with freedom of movement, the right to work and establish businesses, the right to documentation (ID), access to social services, and allocation of plots of land for shelter and agricultural production through a generous asylum policy[1] and various strategies.[2]  The stated goal of these policies is integration of refugees into Ugandan society. However, there are over 1,2 million refugees in Uganda and an average of 2,000 continuing to arrive daily.  This is putting a tremendous strain on the country’s resources and its ability to meet the needs of the rapidly growing numbers of refugees and the host communities. In order for the Ugandan government to maintain its policies and continue to keep its borders open, the international community must share this burden by providing stronger financial support and more sustainable solutions.

These five mothers who are all pregnant walked for 10 days through the bush of South Sudan in search of safety in Uganda.

Photo: Peter Caton/CARE USA

Of the 1.2 million refugees in Uganda, 900,000 are from South Sudan and 86% are women and children.

Women often travel with the responsibility of caring for their own children, plus other relatives’ or neighbors’ children. They may also take up responsibility for caring for unaccompanied children they find along their route. Most have walked by foot for days or weeks through the bush to arrive in Uganda. They do so with limited access to food and water, and often witness and / or experience traumatic incidents and various forms of violence, including sexual violence and rape, and other human rights violations. As reasons for fleeing, refugees often cite physical and sexual violence, killings in their villages, forced recruitment of men and children, lack of food and total collapse of social services, particularly health and education.

 

Thousands of refugees arriving in Uganda are unaccompanied children.

Children under 18 years account for 59% of the refugee population, and thousands are unaccompanied children.

Unaccompanied minors are common in the camp Photo: Peter Caton/CARE USA

Many of these children have fled South Sudan because they lost their parents or guardian in the conflict. Others have been sent by their parents or guardians who stayed behind to protect assets or weak family members who cannot undertake the journey, in a desperate effort to protect them. There are also many children who fled with friends, parents or relatives and got separated from them along the way due to sudden violent outbreaks.

 

Many women and girls report experiencing sexual and physical violence on their journey.

Rape continues to be used as a weapon of war in South Sudan, making women and girls extremely vulnerable to sexual and physical violence both on their journey and once they arrive in Uganda.  They also often cite fear of rape as a primary reason for fleeing the country. As a result, many women and girls arrive extremely traumatized from the violence they have experienced or witnessed in South Sudan, and are in desperate need of psychosocial care.


For more on our work in Uganda, click here.  

[1] The Refugee Act of 2006 and the Refugee Regulations of 2010

[2] The Protection and Solutions Strategy, Uganda, 2016-2020; The Settlement Transformative Agenda and Refugee and Host Population Empowerment Framework under development.

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