Uganda, UNHCR appeal for help over South Sudan refugee inflow

South Sudan Refugee inflo to Uganda
South Sudanese refugees queue for food at a reception centre in Arua, in northern Uganda. Courtesy Photo/UNHCR/David Azia

Humanitarian assistance efforts in Uganda are overstretched as thousands of refugees from South Sudan, desperate for safety and assistance pour into the various parts of the country.

Uganda is already hosting more than 800,000 people, majority of whom arrived since July last year. However, given the present rate of arrivals, the figure could surpass one million by the middle of 2017, Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned.

But chronic and severe under-funding has reached the point where critical programmes operated by the Government of Uganda and the United Nations Refugee Agency -UNHCR are at the risk of being dangerously compromised.

Transit and reception facilities are rapidly becoming overwhelmed and there are significant challenges in providing adequate food rations, health and educational services, as well as sufficient clean water. The already dire situation has been further complicated by the onset of heavy rains.

“Uganda has continued to maintain open borders and we continue to welcome our neighbors in their time of need but we urgently need the international community to assist as the situation is becoming increasingly critical,” Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Uganda’s approach to dealing with refugees has long been among the “most progressive” anywhere on the African continent but the sheer scale of the influx has placed enormous strain on its services and infrastructure.

Each refugee in Uganda is entitled to a 50 by 50 plot of land for cultivation and settlement, materials for construction of a shelter and daily food rations for a period of at least one year. They are also integrated to access health care and education with the community they live in. They have a right to work and do business but also have freedom of movement.

In northern Uganda, where the vast majority of South Sudanese refugees are being hosted, the land has been donated by the local host community, an outstanding display of generosity towards people fleeing war and conflict.

“We are at breaking point” Grandi warned appealing for urgent and massive support. He says that the lack of international attention to the suffering of the South Sudanese people is failing some of the most vulnerable people in the world when they most desperately need help.

“Uganda cannot handle Africa’s largest refugee crisis alone,” Grandi, said calling on the international community to keep the future of the new comprehensive refugee response framework from being thrown into question.

He said the agency is in urgent need of more than USD 250 million to support South Sudanese refugees in Uganda in 2017.

Uganda was chosen as a role model for pioneering a comprehensive approach to refugee protection that complements humanitarian responses with targeted development action, benefiting both refugees and the communities hosting them.

This was adopted as part of the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants at the UN General Assembly last year, and is now also being rolled out in other displacement crises – offering hope to millions of refugees worldwide.

However, in the face of severe under funding and the fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world, Uganda’s ability to realise a model that allows refugees to thrive now risks being jeopardized – and the future of the new comprehensive refugee response framework thrown into question.