One million South Sudanese refugees in Uganda – four things to remember about this milestone

South Sudanese refugees in Adjumani, Northern Uganda. Photo: Lutheran World Federation
South Sudanese refugees in Adjumani, Northern Uganda. Photo: Lutheran World Federation

Despite increasing attention to the severe refugee situation in Uganda, the international community has done little to ease the crisis as it reaches a grim milestone. This is what’s going on.

1. Uganda is home to more refugees than any other country in Africa

With 1,3 million refugees by August 2017, Uganda hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world. The reason behind the severe influx is the conflict in South Sudan. Each day an average of thousands of refugees have crossed the border to Uganda since fighting re-erupted in the capital Juba in July 2016. Within the region, Uganda has received the highest number of South Sudanese refugees, now one million.

The number of internally displaced people included, four million South Sudanese have left their homes, and this makes it one of the largest refugee crises globally. Only Syria and Afghanistan are producing more refugees.

2. An overwhelming majority of the South Sudanese refugees are women and children

More than 85 percent of the South Sudanese refugees in Uganda are women and children, who have traveled by foot to escape a devastating civil war. According to their stories, adult males – brothers, fathers and husbands – have been killed, captured or recruited by armed groups. Opportunities for education and livelihoods are therefore extremely important for this refugee population.

61 percent of the South Sudanese refugees who have arrived since July 2016 are children under 18 years old. Having access to protective and quality education is an essential part of the rehabilitation process for these children whose childhood has been cut short through horrific experiences while fleeing their homes. The provision of education to these children does not only give them hope for a better future, but it also affirms them that their futures are worth believing in.

3. Uganda is at a breaking point

Uganda has one of the most progressive refugee policies in the world. After registration, refugees have the right to study, work, set up enterprises and move freely within the country – all the same rights as native Ugandans apart from the right to vote. Refugees also receive a plot of land at the refugee settlements for cultivation.

But Uganda is also one of the world’s poorest countries. The pace of arrivals has been tough to keep up with, and the UN has warned that Uganda is at a “breaking point”.

4. Uganda needs international support to maintain its transformational refugee policies

Uganda needs the support of the international community to keep . The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR says it needs around 570 million euros to ensure minimum humanitarian standards are met properly, but this far it has received only 17 percent of it.

The funding gap delays projects like providing permanent shelters by months and people are vulnerable to changing weather conditions. Children attend schools in temporary tents, easily taken down and destroyed by high winds and rains. Food rations have been cut several times and creating new plots for farming is an enormous task as new settlements open.

Text: Erik Nyström

Finn Church Aid supports education and livelihood opportunities for refugees in Uganda. Read more about our work here. Read an interview with Uganda’s refugee commissioner here.