A combination of conflict, drought and famine is driving people in the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, into neighbouring countries in record numbers.
As more than 1.8 million refugees – including one million children – flee South Sudan for Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic in search of safety, the situation has become the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.
Soldiers were looting, breaking doors and beating people
After escaping an attack on the town of Pajok in South Sudan in April, Auma escaped and walked for two days, eventually arriving in Uganda.
“The soldiers were looting, breaking doors and beating people. They would arrest you and ask you to show them where the rebels are. But when you tell them you don’t know, they beat you. They killed people,” Auma told UNHCR.
“I am so happy. Even though I have nothing to eat and I have lost everything, my children are alive. I was so scared I didn’t know if I would see them again,” Auma added.
Uganda now hosts the third largest number of refugees worldwide
Uganda now hosts more than 900,000 South Sudanese refugees, with on average 2,400 new refugees like Yubuan and her children arriving every day.
Already home to 400,000 refugees from Burundi and DR Congo, Uganda is now the third-ranked refugee-hosting country in the world, providing a new home to almost one and a half million refugees – 85% of them are women and children.
A beacon of hope
In a world where many countries are closing their doors to those in need, Uganda stands out for pioneering a very different approach.
Uganda’s refugee policy is lauded as one of the most generous in the world and has many impressive aspects.
Uganda allows refugees, irrespective of nationality or ethnic affiliation access to its territory and grants them freedom of movement, land to settle and cultivate, the right to seek employment and establish businesses. As well as access to public services including health and education, vital travel, identity and other documents.
The Government of Uganda also adopted the innovative approach of integrating refugee management and protection into its Second National Development Plan.
A shared responsibility
In recognition of the urgent need for new ways of responding to mass displacement, the UN General Assembly last year called on countries to implement Comprehensive Refugee Response Frameworks (CRRF). Uganda agreed to pilot this.
The expectation is that countries committed to responding to refugee movements using the CRRF will receive support to do so.
Developing countries host 86% of the world’s refugees and understandably struggle to meet the needs of large numbers of traumatised new arrivals.
Progress and achievements at risk
But a lack of predictable development and humanitarian funding to help respond to a crisis of this magnitude now risks unravelling all of these achievements.
With half of 2017 already gone, the UN-led emergency response plan for Uganda has received less than 15% of the funding it requested. Food rations for settled families have been halved and basic services are severely stretched.
Uganda and its communities that are sharing their limited resources with refugees – as well as the refugees themselves – deserve better than this.
An opportunity to stand in solidarity with Uganda
If it’s well supported, Uganda can become a model: It can show the world how sustainable and inclusive investments in social services and in human capital among refugees and host communities can help break the cycle of conflict and build peaceful communities. But the country needs support to achieve this.
The newly elected British Government along with other donor governments will have a unique opportunity to provide that support at a Solidarity Summit that Uganda is convening in late June.
The UK has an important role to play here in recognition of its historic links with Uganda. And by way of building on the UK’s support for communities experiencing mass displacement in recent years, especially in the Middle East.
The ability of the Uganda Summit to secure significant new resources is a critical test of the UN’s promise to deliver the support that refugee hosting countries require. We need to do everything we can to keep that promise and Britain must lead the world in doing so.