JUBA — As the South Sudan Civil War enters its fifth year, the influx of South Sudanese refugees continues to increase. The effects of the conflict, a power struggle between Salva Kir and Riek Machar and the clash between the Dinka and Nuer ethnicities, displaced thousands of individuals.
An estimated 50,000 people in the country lost their lives since South Sudan gained independence in 2011. Additionally, nearly 3.5 million individuals fled the country since the beginning of the conflict, with a majority seeking refuge in nearby countries like Nigeria, Cameroon and particularly Uganda.
Since July, more than 1.3 million individuals crossed into Uganda to seek asylum and resettle. In March 2017, the influx of South Sudanese refugees peaked at around 2,800 arrivals a day. Unfortunately, an estimated 64 percent of refugees are children under the age of 18, resulting in UNICEF dubbing it a “children’s crisis.”
Amnesty International recently condemned the international community for not acceding sufficiently to the demands and needs of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.
The refugee crisis culminated with increasing amounts of pressure on resources, capital, funding and infrastructure in Uganda. Consequently, the South Sudan Refugee Response plan in Uganda is currently only funded by about 15 percent, a sharp drop from 2016 when funding rested at 51.4 percent. This may weaken Uganda’s capacity to provide for South Sudanese refugees and address the humanitarian emergency especially with regards to food, shelter and education. Over 267,000 individuals are presumed to be suffering from malnutrition.
Additionally, refugee camps are reaching maximum capacity. Refugees are often given meager food rations. Imvepi, one of the largest South Sudanese refugee camps, hosts over 120,000 refugees, nearly one-fifth of the South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. In fact, a majority of them are women and children fleeing human rights violations, instability, violence, and the growing threat of famine back in South Sudan.
Opened in August 2016, Bidi Bidi is one of the largest refugee settlements and is home to over 270,000 individuals from South Sudan. It is under threat from overcrowding in recent months. The African Refugee Committee (ARC) is providing a strong support system for South Sudanese refugees in the camp.
Moreover, the UNHCR high commissioner, Filipo Grandi, praised the efforts being undertaken by Uganda. The UNHCR also played a pivotal role by collaborating with governments and other stakeholder groups involved in Uganda. Recently, Grandi pledged $358 million and continued support for Uganda at a recent UNHCR summit.
The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guetteres, is working closely with the Ugandan government and the UNHCR to aid South Sudanese refugees. In a recent U.N. appeal, over $8 billion was secured as funding for the humanitarian risk the refugee crisis poses.
Furthermore, the provision of foreign aid is steadily increasing. Germany contributed 16 million euros to the UNHCR. The EU also recently pledged € 85 million in humanitarian assistance, while the U.S. secured $1.2 billion in vital Famine aid.
The Ugandan government played an integral part in the resettlement of South Sudanese refugees. More than 900,000 refugees were given access to their own land by Ugandan nationals. This is a part of Uganda’s 2006 Refugee Act. Ugandans realize the economic potential of South Sudanese refugees and are therefore very welcoming.
Many South Sudanese refugees employed and some even have their own businesses. Only 1 percent of the refugee population in Kampala, the capital, are unemployed.
The U.N. warned the international community that the plight of South Sudanese refugees is at dire risk of becoming a genocide. Even though Uganda’s open-door policy assuages the plight for many individuals, it may still not be entirely sustainable to safeguard the needs of refugees in the long run.
– Shivani Ekkanath