The tally of South Sudanese refugees entering Uganda for shelter and safety marked 1 million this week, in what is now the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. “Families are escaping a living hell in South Sudan,” Muhumed Hussein, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Country Director for Uganda, stated Aug. 16. “The stories they tell us when they arrive are truly horrific. The war in South Sudan continues to rage and the arrival of the one-millionth South Sudanese fleeing to Uganda is testament to this,” Hussein continued.
Conflict in South Sudan began around its founding in 2011, when the country gained independence from Sudan. Promise for the country’s bright future dimmed when political corruption and ethnic divisions overwhelmed the underdeveloped nation, causing famine and violence.
For the past three-and-a-half years, a civil war has been raging in the country. The nation is split between those loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice president Riek Machar. The conflict has additionally created various divisions and factions of local militia.
Caught in the cross-fire of the war are families, women, and children, who make up around 85 percent of the refugees now fleeing to Uganda. If they remain in South Sudan, they are labeled as rebels and are either killed, tortured, raped, or forced into fighting. Since 2013, it is estimated that as many as 4 million have fled, leaving behind tens of thousands dead. Almost 1,000 citizens have died between the months of May and July alone, according to the South Sudan Human Rights Observatory.
In March, the bishops of South Sudan advocated a “sincere and honest” call to prayer after Kiir called for a day of prayer to be held March 10. Bishop Barani Eduardo Hiiboro of Tombura-Yambio said the whole country would be watching the president closely to see whether his attitude will trend toward peace. The bishops have charged that the political elite “don’t take their people in heart” and that both sides in the war have targeted civilians. They have also said the war has “no moral justification whatsoever.”
On average, 1,800 South Sudanese refugees have been crossing into Uganda every day for the past year. Those who make the dangerous journey to Uganda are welcomed with plots of land, meals, and medical care such as vaccinations, and are also able to travel and work within the country. “The government response to accepting the South Sudanese refugees has been overwhelmingly positive, progressive, and welcoming,” stated Sacha Manov, the deputy director in Uganda for the International Rescue Committee, according to Reuters.
Although Uganda is welcoming of refugees, they are wearing thin on food, supplies, and shelter. The U.N. agency is receiving only about 21 percent of the total cost needed to provide for the refugees. Camps that shelter refugees in Uganda are also in dire need of development, and often lack basic necessities, such as finished toilets.
In addition to aid from the U.N., Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is also contributing their help for the refugee crisis in Uganda. “We have been with the people of South Sudan throughout this time of hope and peril. And we are not deserting them now,” stated Jerry Farrell, the CRS Country Representative in South Sudan. CRS has been offering refugee aid since 2015, by distributing over 6,600 tons of food to more than 250,000 people. The organization has also educated local farmers and trained the community in hygiene promoters to encourage a more sustainable future.
However, Farrell hopes that despite current efforts, the international community will do more to help the refugee crisis. “The people of South Sudan, whom we have come to know so well, expect and deserve better. We hope that the international community will work to see their hopes are fulfilled,” Farrell said.
Refugees will continue to flee South Sudan into neighboring Uganda until the civil war ends and the country can begin to develop a safe homeland for its citizens. However, international peacemaking efforts have halted and there is no substantial talk of peace on the horizon. “South Sudan is the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis,” stated Hussein. “It will likely stay that way until people are no longer living in a state of terror and left with no other option than to flee. The barbaric violence endemic in this war guarantees it.”