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In Uganda, Picking Up the Pieces with South Sudanese Refugees

An average of 570 new refugees arriving every day from South Sudan to Uganda
South Sudanese women
Of the refugee population, nearly 90 percent are women and children. Photo: C. Duroseau

After major conflict erupted in South Sudan this past December, individuals and families started crossing the border into Uganda, seeking refuge. Many have been going to Adjumani, a district in northern Uganda, which is where I’m reporting from today.

When I first arrived, I was struck by what I saw—some 87% of the refugees are women and children. There are many unaccompanied children, and I met with several women in the settlement camps who have taken in unaccompanied minors who have lost their parents or been separated from them.

About 570 new refugees are arriving in Uganda every day, and all settlements are reaching their full capacity. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is in talks with the government to potentially secure more land.

Right now, my colleagues at Action Against Hunger and I are working in three settlement camps in Adjumani—Boroli, Nyumanzi, and Kriyondongo. Here are some updates from the two I’ve just visited.

A settlement camp where new arrivals are constant

Boroli Settlement Camp has been hosting approximately 4,500 people. When I visited last week alone, another 500-600 arrived. Here we’ve primarily been focused on creating good water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure for those who are staying here. We’ve dug boreholes, and built community latrines and handwashing stations. Some refugees have actually started building their own latrines, an indication that they are planning on staying for a long while.

Taking on the role of mom for kids who need one

The areas that now need the most attention in Boroli are health and education. I met with Sarah, a 19-year-old mother who fled South Sudan’s capital city of Juba and has arrived in Boroli. Not only was she with her own four kids, but she’s also taken in five unaccompanied children. She’s started to send her school-aged children to a school near the settlement, but now she’s concerned about how to cover school fees for all nine of the kids in her care.

One of the younger kids fell ill with malaria, and our team helped organize transportation to the nearest health center to get treatment. When I asked Sarah about her future plans, she said she might consider returning to South Sudan once the fighting stops, but that she’s pleased with the opportunity to send her kids to school in Uganda—something she fears may not be possible if she returns home.

A camp beyond capacity

In Nyumanzi, a similar picture is emerging. A few weeks ago it was nearly empty, with only about 100 people. Now there are 20,000—and the site was designed to only hold up to 3,000. The water, sanitation, and hygiene needs are very high, and like in Boroli, our team is working hard to meet those needs.

Everywhere I go, I’m struck not only by the enormity of the needs, but also by the resilience and courage on display from South Sudanese refugees who are currently calling Adjumani, Uganda home. Thank you for your support in helping us make their stay a healthier and cleaner one. They appreciate it, and on behalf of Action Against Hunger’s staff, so do I.

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About Melinda Lee

Melinda is one of our program support officers, coordinating our efforts in East Africa, Pakistan, and Cambodia.

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