Since conflict in South Sudan flared four weeks ago, there has been a sharp increase in the number of people fleeing to Uganda. During the month of July, close to 60,000 South Sudanese crossed into the neighbouring country. Last week, an average of more than 4,000 a day fled to Uganda. An additional 8,000 South Sudanese are seeking refuge in Sudan and Kenya.
• 6 million people, more than half of South Sudan´s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance. A food shortage alarm was raised by Norwegian Refugee Council in July, and the recent fighting will make it even more difficult to reach several parts of the country with necessary assistance.
• The overall number of South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries since December 2013 are nearly 900,000.
• As of the end of June the total number of South Sudanese refugees registered in Uganda was close to 230,000. Between 8 July and 1 August close to 56,000 new arrived. Children and women constitute more than 85 per cent of the new arrivals.
• I addition more than 1,6 million are internally displaced. With over 2.6 million of its citizens forcibly displaced, the world's youngest nation currently ranks among the countries with the highest levels of conflict-induced population displacement globally.
Hoping to return
Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is working in Rhino refugee camp, situated in Arua district. The camp is receiving an average of 350 refugees per day.
Some of the refugees fled into Arua in their vehicles, hoping that it would only be a matter of time until they could return to their home country.
But they might as well end up as refugees for a long time to come, like the more than 200,000 “old” South Sudanese refugees who have been hosted in Uganda for years.
Jacob Nhial, a 25 year old refugee from South Sudan who now works with NRC as a community contact person in the Kativu Cluster, is one of the “old” refugees.
Jacob arrived in Uganda on 24 December 2013, nine days after the first crisis in South Sudan broke out. Jacob remembers the day vividly: It was the day he sat his last exam for Senior 4 level with great aspirations of joining college to study pharmacy.
After hiding in the bush for several days, Jacob fled the fighting and crossed into Uganda. He lost contact with his immediate family. When we met Jacob, he was at the reception centre to receive some of his extended family members who had escaped the recent fighting in South Sudan.
Need for a political solution
Jacob has overcome many obstacles. At the age of five, he suffered a polio attack that left him disabled. This has never stopped him from pursuing his goals. He is trained in the subjects of gender based violence (GBV) and peace and conflict resolution mechanisms which he applies in his work as a community contact person.
Jacob remains concerned about his future. He has no academic certificates to show for the education he acquired while in South Sudan, and this prevents him from pursuing his pharmacy dream.
“This war has really cost me my future. The international community must sustain the pressure on South Sudan for a political solution to be reached. All we want is to live normal lives in our country and to thrive without fear,” says Jacob.
Two weeks before the recent fighting in South Sudan broke out, Jacob had requested to take time off to travel to South Sudan and follow-up on his school certificates with the Ministry of Education. He was asked to postpone his travel to support some pending assignments at work. The fighting broke out soon after and Jacob feels lucky not to have travelled when he had intended to, as he would have definitely been caught up in the fighting.
“Robbing the youth”
Jacob’s story is replicated over and over again, as the youth of South Sudan, the world’s youngest independent state, abandon their dreams to seek refuge from the fighting.
“It is a crisis that is robbing South Sudan of its most valuable resource, the youth, of their future, their right to education, and it needs to stop,” says Hosana Adisu, the Area Manager for NRC in Uganda. He is planning on how to scale up NRC’s education interventions in Arua District for the rapidly increasing influx of South Sudanese children and youth, turned refugees in Uganda.