LIFE AS A REFUGEE: Inside Ugandan Camps

By Ochan Hannington

Imagine if 1 million people were suddenly displaced because of a war. How would you house them?

This is the problem the world faces today from the 3-year-old civil war in South Sudan, but this is not just a statistic - it's the reality faced by many individuals and families, whose lives have been turned upside down.

In September 2016, Peace News visited UNHCR refugee camps in Arua, Uganda, near the border of South Sudan, and spoke to people who had fled the fighting.

Manas Lokudu worked in Yei, selling mobile phones, before the violence in his town escalated

"The biggest panic came when my brother got shot,” Mr Lokudu said from Ocea/Rhino Camp.

“He and others were preparing a village bridge along South Sudan-DRC road, around Mitika area," he said.

"There was a scuffle between the SPLA-IO and the SPLA around the area. But upon their return, the SPLA started shooting randomly at civilians. It is the government force (SPLA) that shot my brother, right at his house.

"At that moment I took him to town in Yei…there was no one in Yei in all clinics to attend to him! All doctors were scattered…everyone went to their villages, others had left for Uganda. I realised my brother’s condition was not good. I tried my best to get him out into Uganda."

Mr Lokudu and his brother made it to Uganda, and are recovering, but they lost everything when they crossed the border.

“"When I came to Uganda I didn’t carry any money on me,” Mr Lokudu said.

“I didn’t even bring any item of my business. All that is left in the house. Not even any money that I had at home. The money that I had deposited in the bank is still there. There is no way I can go back to collect it. Here is the problem why I can’t go. You know, once you are out of [South] Sudan to another country, and you stay away for four or five days…upon return you are considered to be a rebel. Immediately you are picked up [by government security forces] to be killed or to be imprisoned, just like that!"

His story is like so many others, and while refugee camps offer some safety life there is still hard.

Mother-of-five Dusman Ronah left Yei with her children and said she is grateful to Uganda, and the UNHCR. Ms Ronah is in Ariwa village/Rhino Camp and said she is worried about her family’s future.

"In the level of education...I completed ordinary secondary level of education, since 2011, and the knowledge that I [have] is going,” Ms Ronah said.

“If they can at least bring something for us, who have gone a step forward, it would be better than us wasting our education for nothing” she said.

“Like for me, I want my children to go to school."

Sitima from Ocea/Rhino Camp said water is a big issue for refugees in the camps.

"When you get here [to collect water] at 6 am, you wait long, and actually get to return at 8pm, but sometimes…at 9 pm," she said.

The UNHCR, and its partners, told Peace News they are trying to find additional sources in the water-stressed area.

Juma Denis Daniel was a social worker in Yei before he fled, and he is worried about family and friends left behind.

"You don't know what's happening in your own country, about the network, and there are people there - there are a lot of people there - they are friends, they are people that you work with, and I still don't know if they are dead or if they have taken refuge," Mr Daniel said from Ariwa village/Rhino Camp.

Of 1 million refugees from South Sudan, 400,000 have fled to Uganda, and 56,000 are in the Rhino Settlement in Arua. Thirty-five thousand have arrived in the last 3 months.