Uganda refugee crisis: Five things you need to know

Refugees from South Sudan queuing for food after arriving at Imvepi refugee camp in Uganda

1. 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.

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

Refugee holding food coupon
A refugee holding a food coupon at Imvepi refugee camp

The Government of Uganda 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. The stated goal of the these various policies is integration of refugees into Ugandan society.

However, there over 1.2 million refugees in Uganda. 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. The international community must share this burden by providing stronger financial support and more sustainable solutions.

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

Woman and baby refugees in Uganda
Florence, 19, has one child and is seven months pregnant with her second

Women often travel with the responsibility of caring for their own children, plus other relatives’ or neighbours’ children and/or caring for unaccompanied children they meet along their route. Most have walked by foot for days or weeks through the bush to arrive in Uganda, with limited access to food and water.

They have often witnessed and/or experienced traumatic incidents and various forms of violence, including sexual violence and rape, and human rights’ violations and famine. 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.

Florence (pictured above) and her husband went to their food plot in South Sudan to get some cassava, when soldiers emerged from the undergrowth and seized both of them. The soldiers kept her husband but let Florence go. She immediately grabbed her child and fled to Uganda. Florence said:

In Uganda I feel safe but I miss my husband. I don't know how I will feed my children. We have nothing. My child cries with hunger and there is nothing I can do to help him.

4. Thousands of refugees arriving in Uganda are unaccompanied children

Unaccompanied refugee children in Uganda
Unaccompanied children at Imvepi camp

Children under 18 account for 59% of the refugee population, and thousands are unaccompanied children. 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 have stayed behind to protect assets or other family members who cannot undertake the journey.

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.

5. 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 traumatised from the violence they have experienced or witnessed in South Sudan, and are in desperate need of psychosocial care.

How CARE is helping

At Imvepi settlement, which began receiving new arrivals in February 2017, CARE has built temporary emergency shelters for refugees with special needs and is providing sexual, reproductive and maternal health support and gender-based violence protection and support.

In another refugee settlement, Rhino camp, CARE is providing maternal health, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), gender-based violence, and livelihoods support to refugees.

We are partnering with Oxfam GB to scale up protection, gender-based violence and shelter support in West Nile region, and with UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) to cover new additional settlement areas.

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