South Sudan violence continues to drive hundreds into Uganda

South Sudan violence continues to drive hundreds into Uganda
South Sudanese refugees, many of them young boys, arrive at the collection centre in Elegu, Uganda. Courtesy Photo.

Hundreds of tired, distressed, hungry and thirsty South Sudan refugees continue to arrive in Lamwo district in Northern Uganda each day.

The refugees come aboard more than ten school buses hired by United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) through Ngom Oromo border point in Lukung Sub County in Lamwo district and Elegu Border Point in Amuru district.

The refugees arrive in ones, twos, fives and more through formal and informal border crossing areas after walking for days without proper food and water. They say they are fleeing fighting back in their homes inside volatile South Sudan.

At least 16 different humanitarian agencies have joined the efforts to treat and settle the new arrivals in three large settlements opened in Palabek Ogili, Palabek Gem and Palabek Kal sub counties in Lamwo district.

David Wangwe, the Settlement Commandant in the Office of the Prime Minister at the reception center, says on average they receive about 200 people compared to between 700 and 1,000 people who arrived daily in April following an attack in Pajok in Magwi County in April.

After a day of screening at the reception center, the refugees are settled on a 30 meters by 30 meter piece of land to establish a home. Wangwe says each family is then allocated a similar piece of fertile land to plant crops to support their livelihood.

More than 300 children separated from their parents have also been rescued and brought the Palabek settlement in Ogili Sub County. According to the minor, war broke out when their fathers were away in the gardens forcing them to hide in the bushes for days before finding their way to safety in Uganda.

Some of the children were found malnourished with skin infections during screening. Uganda Red Cross Society is attempting to trace the family of some of the children to rejoin them with their families.

The Conflict Driving Them

Martin Ogwang, a resident of Pajok fled the violence of April 3rd with seven children after counting 26 dead bodies. He told this publication that he spent days hiding and trekking with the children to Uganda.

Ogwang remembers the dark April day with precision. He says government troops descended on their village accusing civilians of supporting rebel leader, Riek Machar and indiscriminately opened fire on civilians killing several of them.

He suspects that scores of elderly persons were burnt alive in their huts. Speaking in the native Acholi language, Ogwang graphically described the incident as ethnic cleansing of Acholi ethnic group in South Sudan.

“They accused us of supporting rebel leader Riek Machar and mercilessly killed whoever they found”, he narrated adding that some of the injured died in the bushes.

James Lacan Matwal, another resident of Pajok says he fled on April 19th from South Sudan due to fear of fresh violence in Pajok, Eastern Equatorial State, Magwi and Obor, close to the border with Uganda.

Jimmy Lupila Abwoc, a resident of Owiny Kibul in South Sudan says he also fled fearing violence being reported in neighbouring areas. According to Wangwe, the settlement camp in Lamwo is expected to accommodate more than 100,000 refugees.

A spike of conflict that broke out in July 2013 between forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar and those loyal to President Salva Kiir has displaced millions into neighboring countries.