The UNHCR reported this week that Uganda is currently at a “breaking point” due to the large influx of refugees entering the country from South Sudan. Currently, Uganda is home to approximately 800,000 South Sudanese refugees, with 2,800 arriving on a daily basis.
The establishment of South Sudan as an independent state in 2011 has aggravated the tension between rivaling ethnic groups in the country. The conflict began in 2013 and has since been the cause of over 50,000 deaths. According to UN agencies, one million people in the country are close to starvation. Meanwhile, more than 1.6 million South Sudanese people have been displaced from their homes and 70% of schools have closed as a result of the conflict.
In December of 2016, the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) reported that atrocities, such as gang rape and the burning of villages occur regularly as a mode of warfare in the South Sudan. This problem is magnified by the concern that many parts of the country have no courts capable of punishing such actions.
Uganda, which shares a border with South Sudan, adopts one of the most progressive refugee policies in the world. Refugees are resettled in designated settlements, largely donated by local host communities. Despite Uganda’s inspiring generosity, the overwhelming influx of refugees into the country is beginning to take its toll. According to Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, large inflows of refugees from South Sudan are “placing enormous strain on our public services and local infrastructure.”
Bidi Bidi, located in northern Uganda, is one of the largest resettlement camps in the world. It is currently home to over 270,000 refugees. One Bidi Bidi refugee stressed that food supplies were in short supply, with many residents resorting to eating leaves or coconuts. According to the UNHCR, the Ugandan government is struggling to provide their refugee population with clean water, health services, and education. This is particularly concerning given that 60% of the refugees entering Uganda are children.
The UNHCR needs approximately $250 million (USD) to support South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said: “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.” Given the lack of international attention toward the issue, the UNCHR report claims that the conflict in South Sudan has the potential to rival the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
Uganda’s generosity towards the South Sudanese refugee population contrasts that of the US government, who under President Donald Trump decreased the country’s maximum annual refugee intake to 50,000. In comparison, the significantly poorer, smaller and less-populated country of Uganda has accepted 572,000 refugees since July 2016.
Unfortunately, there is no relief in sight for South Sudan and Uganda. Despite a peace deal being signed almost a year ago, the conflict has only grown more destructive with Uganda’s refugee population set to exceed one million by mid-2017. Without either monetary relief or increased refugee intakes from the international community, Uganda’s woes are likely to continue.
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