“We ran for our lives to avoid being killed. I spent all the money I had to bring my children to safety in Uganda,” says Agnes Drabua (35). She is one among thousands of refugees who crossed the border into neighbouring Uganda last month.
According to the latest figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), over 85,000 South Sudanese refugees have crossed into Uganda since the recent fighting erupted on 7 July. That is more than twice the number of people who came during the year’s first six months. Reception centres can no longer cope with the extraordinary influx of refugees. Humanitarian organisations and the authorities are doing everything they can to meet the needs, but they lack resources.
“The large number of refugees has put enormous pressure on our resources. We do everything we can to assist, so that the aid reaches those in need, but it is extremely challenging. We do not have enough staff and the economic resources are too scarce to cover all the needs,” says Emmanuel Adowa who works at the NRC office in Adjumani.
Reducing food rations
The open square by the Nyumanzi reception centre is crowded. The reception centre, which is designed to accommodate around 2,000 refugees, is today home to more than 13,000 South Sudanese refugees.
“The centre is overflowing and we can no longer provide enough food to people residing here. In August, we have been forced to reduce food distributions by half to those who are already residents, in order to be able to help the new arrivals,” says Albert Alumbi, settlement coordinator at the government office in Nyumanzi.
About 90 percent of all South Sudanese refugees in Uganda are women and children. Agnes Drabua (35) sits together with her five children in the newly opened settlement Pagirinya. As the majority of women here, she came alone with her children across the border.
“We are peaceful people. I only want peace and a safe future for my children,” says Drabua.
The Pagrinya settlement is only a few weeks old, but already home to over 27,000 people. A cholera outbreak few days ago has put even greater pressure on resources in the area.
“At first, we identified two patients with cholera. Now, the figures have risen to 37 people and the cholera team in the area is working hard to stop it from spreading,” said Ahmed Rasul, health worker at the clinic in Pagrinya.
“We have been forced to establish strict procedures for hygiene. The big challenge is that the settlement is full. We are deploying people from here to the newest settlement in Yumbe, says Vincent Amaroma, settlement assistant at the government office in Pagrinya.
South Sudan is today one of the world's largest humanitarian crises. According to UNHCR, close to a million refugees have crossed the border into neighbouring Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. Inside the country, more than 1.6 million people are displaced. The refugees coming across the border tell of brutal killings, rebels burning down houses, and military stealing peoples’ money. At the border in Elegu, the last days have been less hectic, but the steady stream of refugees continues to pass. Although the conflicts in South Sudan have subsided since the battles broke out in early July, the situation is still tense.
“Yesterday, several police officers came across the border with their families. This says something about the security situation in the country. Now that the fighting has calmed down, one of the main reasons why people flee is food shortage. We still have room for more, but it will not last for long,” says Frida Kajoki, registration officer at Elegu.
Born a refugee
Alice Drama (24) is sitting on the tent floor with her two-week-old baby. Her son is one of many children born a refugee. The new-born is breathing heavily. Inside the tent the heat is blazing. Drama was heavily pregnant when she escaped and crossed the border, after her husband left her for another wife. Now she dreams of a peaceful life and a secure future for her son.
“I'm so tired of the war. I cannot stand to be afraid anymore. Now, I think about my boy's future. I hope he will be fine,” says Drama.
While the number of refugees in South Sudan’s neighbouring country Uganda is increasing, the war continues to ravage the world's youngest country.
Over 85,000 South Sudanese have fled to Uganda since July 2016, according to UNHCR.
Over 85 per cent of the new arrivals are women and children.
As of the end of July, Uganda hosted over 550,000 refugees. This included 315,000 refugees and asylum seekers from South Sudan, and over 200,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
South Sudan ranks among the countries with the highest levels of conflict-induced population displacement globally. Over 1.6 million people are displaced inside the country, and more than 900,000 have fled to neighbouring countries since December 2013.
6 million people - more than half South Sudan´s population - need humanitarian assistance.
- Over 4.8 million people in South Sudan will face severe food shortages over the coming months, and the risk of a hunger catastrophe continues to threaten parts of the country.