Amnesty International appeals to donors on refugees in Uganda

Amnesty International appeals to donors on refugees in Uganda
South Sudanese refugee woman, displaced by fighting, holds her child on arrival at Imvepi settlement in Arua district, northern Uganda, April 4, 2017. Picture taken April 4, 2017. REUTERS/James Akena.

Rich countries are failing in their obligation to help Uganda support thousands of refugees fleeing South Sudan, Amnesty International has said.

In a report launched ahead of a high-level donor summit in Uganda this week, Amnesty International says more than 900,000 refugees have fled the brutal conflict in South Sudan and sought safety in Uganda, but funding shortfalls mean that many of them are not receiving basic services such as food, water and shelter. It says at least 86 percent of them are women and children.

Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, Horn and Great Lakes says Uganda has remained welcoming and generous at a time when many countries are closing their borders on refugees.

She however says Uganda is under what she calls “incredible strain” as funds dry up yet thousands continue to cross from South Sudan every day. Wanyeki says these refugees must not become the latest victims of a collective and shameful failure of international cooperation.

“Donors, including the US, EU countries, Canada, China and Japan, must step up support for Uganda by ensuring timely funding for refugees’ immediate and long-term needs,” she says.

Amnesty International’s researchers reputedly visited refugee settlements in Adjumani, Moyo, Yumbe and Arua and saw firsthand the impact of the funding difficulties. Refugees and aid workers reportedly spoke of a desperate lack of food, water, shelter and other basic services due to funding shortfalls.

Amnesty says support for vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied children, persons with disabilities, and the elderly, was also severely lacking. Yesterday, the UN children’s agency – UNICEF – issued a statement saying up to 1000 children continue to cross the border to Uganda, running away from violence in South Sudan.

Amina Nunu, a 24-year-old mother of one at Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Arua District complained to Amnesty International about lack of water and food.

Nunu, who lives with her husband and children in Pagyrina settlement in Adjumani District, said: “The main thing here is the water and food shortage. Food was given earlier and now it is finished. Water is a major problem… The population is big but they bring it just once a day.”

Torture, killings and rape in South Sudan

Refugees continue to flee some of the worst violence to hit the Southern Equatorial region since the country descended into armed conflict in December 2013. Thousands have been killed and close to 1.8 million forced into exile.

The Amnesty International report documents cases of some of refugees in Uganda with horrific accounts of torture, indiscriminate killings, rape, and widespread looting from South Sudan government soldiers.

The report documents a story of Joyce, 37, who saw soldiers stab her husband multiple times until he was dead. “After arresting him, they didn’t even use a single bullet, they used knives and just stabbed him until he died,” she said.

Jane, 28, another refugee was raped by three men in uniform after they broke into her home and shot her husband dead. “The reason I left is because… my husband was killed. They got us at the house and shot him and started raping me,” she said.

Patrick, 19, described how he and his brother were detained in a container with two other men at a military barracks in Nyepo town. “Every night, we were taken out one by one blindfolded, interrogated and beaten. They had pliers… they would pinch and twist our fingers,” he said.

Patrick eventually managed to escape, but is still yet to find out whether his brother is still alive.
Amnesty International says as of May 2017, only 18% of the required funding for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, to provide for South Sudan refugees in Uganda, had been met.

UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP) and 57 aid agencies have since appealed for more than 1.4 billion dollars to provide vital support including food and shelter by the end of 2017.

Uganda says it needs up to eight billion US dollars in the next four years to handle refugees. It hopes to raise part of this money during the Uganda refugees’ Solidarity Summit co-hosted with the UN in Kampala on June 22 and 23.

“Despite the dire need, and multiple appeals by Uganda and the UN for increased funding, donors have consistently failed to respond,” Wanyeki says. She adds that by failing to share responsibility with Uganda, donor countries are failing to protect thousands of refugees’ lives; which is an obligation under international law.