Thousands of South Sudanese refugees are struggling to adjust to life in Ugandan settlement camps as violence in South Sudan looms on between government forces and rebel troops, keeping their dream of returning homenull and void.
The war that started in South Sudan’s capital, Juba last December and spread to the other parts of the country has forced millions out of their homes and left thousands dead,according to UN. Almost 100,000 refugees have fled to Northern Uganda-districts bordering South Sudan, since the war begun.
With Agency for Corporation and Research Development ACORD-Uganda, Marvis Birungi visited Nyumanzi refugee camp in Adjumani district, the second largest with at least 22 thousand refugees and met with regular refugees.
A couple of minutes to the northern part of the camp is a clinic (in a tent) run by the Medecines Sans Frontiers (MSF). Hundreds crowd the medical facility for free services, but the nurse’s most attention is directed to a 12 year old girl who was recently raped by a gang of un-known men. “She is being tested of syphilis and HIV AIDS and will be given preventive treatment against any sexually transmitted infections,” said Jacob Manyang, an ACORD volunteer and former medical official in Jonglei’s ministry of
health, who joined the camp in January with eleven of his family members. He said the incident is the first of its kind ever since the refugees were settled in Nyumanzi.
“The situation is very sad and desperate among the refugees”, he added. “MSF is only dealing with emergencies but not the major diseases, there are no proper medical facilities set up that can help critical situations.” The UN said this month that it is seeking 64 million US dollars for six months to assist South Sudanese refugees that fled to the East African countries. The UN puts the number of refugees in Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia at 600,000. It said that more refugees are expected into neighboring countries after the recent attacks in Bentiu and Bor. Rebel forces killed South Sudanese based on their ethnicity after they temporarily captured Bentiu town, while in Bor, a group of armed youths forced their way to the UN and opened fire on Internally Displaced People who were seeking safety there.
Manyang added that one of the patients suspected of the hepatitis illness was advised to go back to South Sudan for treatment but due to the situation there, he was still un-able to get proper treatment.
Although the Ugandan government, UN and NGOs are responding, available resources are visibly less than the refugees’ needs. ACORD has been responding with distribution of stoves to the most vulnerable families. At least 1000 families received these charcoal stoves. It is also sensitizing pregnant mothers on accessing health facilities but due to cultural norms, many mothers still prefer giving birth from homes with the help of traditional birth attendants. World Food Program distributes 50 kilograms of millet flour to ten people every 30 days. Most of the refugees interviewed said the food is not enough, calling on the UN to increase on the amount of food aid. Uganda police is on ground ensuring the safety of refugees.
Many refugees appreciated the security situation. Guns and other insecure weapons were all confiscated at the border when refugees were coming into the country. Survivors a majority of the refugees in Nyumanzi are competent and hard-wearing people. They are not helplessly waiting on aid. They are engaged in small scale businesses for survival.
Elijah Choul, a former lab technician and supervisor in Juba teaching hospital runs a small drug shop in the camp. “I buy these drugs,” he said, “they are not a donation, that’s why I charge my counterparts, for the benefit of the community and my survival,” headded. Almost 80% of the patients that come to Chol’s drug shop are malaria patients.
Among them is Joyce Majek. She joined the camp in January and her four year old daughter has had an off and on malaria for weeks now. Chol said her illness is rampant because the young girl’s feeding is poor and inadequate.
Asked how she affords her daughter’s treatment bills, Majek said that she begs money from some of her colleagues.
The rainy season has left many in Nyumanzi vulnerable to mosquito bites. Mosquito nets have not yet been distributed to the refugees and the few sold in the market places are very costly. Chol said the refugees running such businesses are limited to only drug shops by local authorities in Uganda and as a result, they are re located little space that only takes in a handful of patients per day.
Outside Chol’s drug shop, over eight women sell milk. Mary Atong buys milk from the locals to sell to her counterparts. She buys a 20 liter jerry can of milk at 40, 000 Uganda shillings and sells it at 45, 000.
I can sell one or two jerry cans a day,” she said. “I use most of the money for my children’s upkeep.” Food is very costly in the camp. A cup of beans goes for 2000 yet the normal cost is 500 shillings in Northern Uganda, while a kilo of sugar is at 5000 against the usual cost of 2400.
Across Mary’s business, is Kellen Nguer, she runs a tailoring machine and joined the camp in January with four children. She makes at least 10, 000 Uganda shillings or less in a day. Like Mary, Kellen too uses most of her savings for her children’s welfare.
She echoed a message of distress to the current situation. “I have no hopes of returning to South Sudan unless the war completely comes to an end.”Peace negotiations stalling in South Sudan Peace talks that focus on national reconciliation and healing between
representatives of the South Sudan government and rebel leaders have not produced any tangible results since they begun in Addis Ababa- weeks after the violence broke out in December.
The talks are interceded by the African Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development. IGAD heads of states approved the deployment of a protection force in March and are now calling upon member states to mobilize support for the meditation and quicken the process to deploy the force.
The mediators are optimistic that both groups are committed to end the conflict. South Sudan government released four political detainees in April, a move many see as a key step in enhancing the negotiations to end the crisis.
by Marvis Birungi
African Voices Journalist, Uganda