Cover Feature

South Sudanese Refugees Seek Safety in Neighboring Uganda

Civil War, unrest, and genocide force tens of thousands from their homes.

Mud splashes across the foreman's face as his engineering team digs a well which will provide clean water to both South Sudanese refugees and Ugandan villagers.

Refugees flee across the border from South Sudan, where civil war and genocide have plagued the world’s youngest country since shortly after it declared its independence from Sudan in 2011. Unrest and ethnic violence have left thousands dead and many more without homes.

Two rebel groups wage open war against a government dominated almost entirely by the Dinka ethnicity, which accounts for only 35 percent of the east African nation’s total population. Meanwhile, nomadic communities—with a long history of antagonism and violence between them—raid each other for cattle and supplies, and even for children to kidnap and raise as their own. Such raids were once carried out with sticks and blades, but in an area rife with war for decades, powerful firearms are now all too common—and inter-village conflicts all the bloodier for it.

With peace a distant dream in their home country, many enter neighboring Uganda in search of safety and stability. And while they may find better security and protection from violence, life in the refugee camps is far from an ideal solution. Opportunities for employment are limited, goods and services are scarce and poor access to basic sanitation increases risk of disease.

Sandford (not his real name) is an accountant, a skilled professional accustomed to a much higher standard of living in one of South Sudan’s larger cities. For the past year and a half, he’s been living in a camp in Uganda’s Adjumani district, unemployed and hoping for a better future for his seven-year-old daughter. His wife didn’t make it.

“The circumstances that brought me here were tragic. Because of the war, we were forced to move,” Sandford told Salvation Army World Services Office staff who visited the camp in late October. “There was serious fighting, people were displaced, gunships were flying over, women being raped, children even being kidnapped. All those tragic moments, we experienced them in my country. I have a child— her mother was shot.”

Julius, right, is the director of the construction company building latrines in the refugee settlement. His team consists of supervisors and engineers, but the laborers are hired on-site, giving the refugees opportunities for employment and a sense of community pride.

Ideally, Sandford would like to return home to South Sudan. But he doesn’t believe that will be possible any time soon. In the meantime, he’s making the best of life in the camps, where he’s found himself a place as a community leader.

“Living here is full of trauma,” he said. “Children are not learning well. The schools are here, but the services offered are not okay. The quality of life is not good, and I’m desperate to go back home.”

The long-term goal is to build one latrine per family.

Conditions in the camp have improved since Sandford arrived, fortunately, thanks in part to the efforts of The Salvation Army’s UK-based International Emergency Services and U.S.-based World Service Office. Freshly-dug boreholes provide access to clean water, and several latrines have been constructed —one for every two families, with the long-term goal of providing one for each family. The latrines funded by The Salvation Army are considered the gold standard by the camp’s residents and leaders.

The latrines aren’t just a source of increased sanitation among the refugees, but also a source of employment and community pride: The contractor overseeing the construction brings his own engineers and supervisors, but the rest of the labor is hired on-site. The camp’s residents are given opportunities to directly improve their own community, and are paid fairly in a place where jobs are hard to come by.

One of the latrines donated by the Army is near a typical hut for refugee families.

Unrest continues in South Sudan, and likely won’t end in the foreseeable future. But camps like the one in Uganda’s Adjumani district will continue to provide a refuge for those fleeing the violence—and The Salvation Army will continue to help make their transition as comfortable as possible.

“(The Salvation Army) has done a lot,” Sandford said. “We are very happy for your coming. But there are also more opportunities.” 

John Funk is communications manager for The Salvation Army World Services Office


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