South Sudan: Refugees from conflict and hunger

South Sudanese refugees in Uganda awaiting an aid distribution by CARE

When I went to meet some of the South Sudanese refugees who have fled into Uganda and are staying in Rhino refugee camp in northern Uganda, I found it was strange that there were hardly any men in these villages.

We took a walk around the compound and also held a meeting with refugees who had been supported by CARE Uganda with hygiene kits, shelter, access to water and sanitation. The large majority were women, elderly women, middle age women, young girls and infants. I wondered where all the men were.

Women at an aid distribution in Uganda
Women at a CARE distribution of hygiene kits

Each woman had a heartbreaking story to tell.

One of them was disabled. She had crossed the border into Uganda with her baby and told me that her husband was murdered in front of them.

Another woman said she decided to flee, but her husband opted to stay behind to keep the family’s property and land. She was in tears as she told her story and said she didn’t know whether he would survive the war because they hadn’t heard from him since then.

Another woman said she fled with her niece. When they boarded a taxi to the Ugandan border, they were stopped by a group of armed men in uniforms. She explained how the armed men singled out all the men from a specific tribe, forcefully took them out of the taxi and killed them.

This woman said that different tribes were hunting each other, killing men, raping women and girls.

When I asked which tribe was doing this to them, she said: All the tribes are guilty. They are all taking vengeance.

One man joined the group so I asked him why he was here and his fellow men were not.

He told me that some of the men went to the camp and felt redundant staying there doing nothing. He said they could not bear the humiliation of idleness because, in South Sudanese tradition, a man having no means of livelihood is the worst form of humiliation. That is why many men preferred to go back to their home country to find work, even at the risk of being killed.

Many of the women we talked to on that day in Rhino refugee settlement could hardly speak, tears were just streaming down their faces. I felt their pain and sense of anguish.

In some way I felt proud as a CARE staff member while visiting the settlement, because I could see how CARE’s work is really helping thousands of people in distress.

Yet I left the settlement with a sense that this crisis is just going to get worse, and many more South Sudanese women and girls are going to need our help.

Report by Delphine Mugisha, Programme Director, CARE International in Uganda

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.