Uganda has received 30,000 refugees in just three weeks and reception facilities are overflowing. Recent fighting in South Sudan has caused a new wave of arrivals, putting pressure on its southern neighbour, which was already hosting half a million refugees.
“The new refugee influx of South Sudan refugees is a huge burden to the government. We are constrained in terms of providing social services to these new refugees,” Titus Jogo, a refugee official at the Ugandan prime minister’s office, told IRIN. “We are looking for additional resources to provide them with social services like medical care, water, shelter and other basic necessities.”
By early December 2015, Uganda had become home to almost 511,000 refugees and asylum seekers, making it the third largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, after Ethiopia and Kenya.
As of 24 July, more than 30,000 refugees had crossed into Uganda to flee uncertainty and fighting in South Sudan between government troops of President Salva Kiir and forces loyal to First Vice President Riek Machar. Humanitarian agencies say the sudden influx has severely stretched the resources and capacity of refugee collection points, transit centres and reception centres in the northwestern part of the country.
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“Our collection points and reception centres are severely over capacity. This is a significant challenge as we've received nearly as many refugees in the last week as we had done in the first six months of 2016,” Charles Yaxley, associate external relations officer at the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, told IRIN.
On 22 July, when IRIN visited Elegu collection point on the South Sudan-Uganda border, it had more than 10,000, ten times its 1,000 person capacity. Heavy rains were further hampering registration efforts.
The sanitation is poor and the site is littered with garbage. The pit latrines can’t handle the numbers, forcing thousands to defecate in the open nearby.
“The situation is much worse: alarming and appalling. The numbers are overwhelming. Yet the number of humanitarian agencies on the ground to provide critical aid is small,” John Bosco Komakech, executive director of the Catholic charity Caritas in Gulu archdiocese, told IRIN at Elegu.
“The influx was not expected to be this big and, as it stands now, it has burst the resources available, especially at Elegu refugee collection point,” Justine Abenaitwe, humanitarian manager for Save the Children Uganda, told IRIN.
The visibly tired and hungry children and women, who compose 90 percent of the new influx, said they had only received biscuits provided by humanitarian agencies.
“The children are crying for food to eat, but we can’t provide anything,” Jovin Bako, a refugee from Torit in South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria State, told IRIN. “We are tired of running. We appeal to President Kiir and his vice [president] to consider the plight and suffering of the innocent civilians. We need peace and security in our country. We are tired of violence and war,” she said.
Nyumanzi transit centre in Uganda’s northwestern district of Adjumani was built in early 2014 to hold some 2,000 people for no more than two weeks. It now has more than 20,000 refugees. Kuluba collection point is hosting about 1,500 refugees, compared to its 300-person capacity.
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Last week, the Ugandan government and UNHCR evaluated a number of potential new sites for longer-term settlement as well as new collection points.
“The Adjumani settlement is full. We are planning to reopen one settlement in Yumbe, which last operated in 1990, in the next 45 days. This is now a new place where we don’t have any structures and services at all,” Jogo told IRIN.
“It will require us to put up all the social services like water, shelter, setting up of health facilities, drilling boreholes, pit latrines and constructing structures for security personnel. This will require additional logistics and financial resources, which we don’t have at the moment.”
UNHCR too is seeking funding: it has revised its appeal for the South Sudan refugee operation, seeking $701 million. The earlier appeal for $638 million was only 17 percent funded.
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