Refugee settlements in Uganda rife with sexual abuse

Refugee settlements in Uganda rife with sexual abuse
Cases of sexual violence, abuse and exploitation in refugee settlements in Uganda are so common

On March 25th, 2018, 15-year-old Nancy Draru (not real names), a Ugandan national went Agojo Refugee settlement in Adjumani district together with her two sisters for a local dance.

On her way back home, she was raped by 21-year-old Emmanuel Guya, a South Sudanese refugee. “A group of men that I didn’t know came out of nowhere when I and my sisters were walking back home. The group was made up of five men. Four of the men chased my sisters away as one of them remained and pushed me down and raped me,” she said.

She explains that Guya pinned her firmly on the ground and held her mouth to prevent her from screaming for help as he raped her. She explains that after raping her Guya left her to go home before he ran after her asking for more sex. Draru, who was running and shouting for help, was rescued by her brother who got into a fight with Guya together with his friends.

Guya was later picked up and charged with rape. Section 123 of the penal code defines rape as “Any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind or by fear of bodily harm, or by means of false representations as to the nature of the act, or in the case of a married woman, by personating her husband, commits the felony termed rape.”

Rape is punishable by death as provided for by section 125 of the penal code act. Once convicted Guya could suffer death.

Yasin Mpoowa, the Officer in Charge of Criminal Investigations Department Adjumani police station, says they record a case of sexual assault involving minors or adults each day. He says that most of the cases that are reported involve refugees and residents from the host communities.

“The cases that involve refugees and locals are the most reported. The ones concerning either just locals or refugees are rarely reported. We receive at least one defilement or rape case reported to us here on a daily basis,” he said.

It is estimated that over one million South Sudan refugees are living in various settlements in the country. Adjumani alone has a total of 110,000 refugees that are settled in 18 refugee settlements.

Geoffrey Mangai, Draru’s father says what happened to his daughter was very painful, saying he is willing to follow the case up to the last point.

“What happened to my daughter was painful because I was one of the many people in Adjumani that offered my land to the refugees in the area. It is very painful that this is the way that I and my family have been paid back,” he said.

Saleh Emmanuel, a community leader at Bidi bidi Refugee settlement in Yumbe district attributes the cases of sexual assault in the settlements to raging hormones among females and males.

He however, says most parents are reluctant to inform police or leaders about cases of sexual abuse. “What we have learnt is that so many times, parents do not want to involve us in such cases. They settle them within families by forcing the two people involved to get married.”

Saleh says in other cases, the victim’s family is compensated money by the perpetrator’s family. He says in cases that are reported, Non-Governmental Organizations play a big role in helping the victims and making sure that the perpetrators are brought to book.

One of the NGOs operating in refugee settlements in Adjumani is the Lutheran World Foundation (LWF). Elizabeth Kaboyo, Protection Coordinator LWF, says that sexual gender based violence is common in refugee settlements and hosting communities.

According to Kaboyo, 2 out of every 5 cases of gender based violence that they deal with on a weekly basis involve sexual abuse. “2 out of 5 cases that we deal with are cases of rape or defilement and we handle these cases as emergencies,” she said.

According to Kaboyo, the organization handled 329 cases of Sex Gender Based Violence last year. 37 cases involved male victims while the remaining victims were female. Out of the 829 SGBV cases reported; 19 were rape, 33 sexual abuse, 145 physical assault, 6 forced marriages, 42 economic violence and 64 cases of emotional abuse.

Charles Riuk, one of the local leaders in Mireiyi refugee settlement in Adjumani district, says t the cases of sexual abuse are high in refugee settlements especially among new entrants.

Riuk says when the last batch of refugees were taken to his settlement in 2013; at least one case of sexual abuse was reported to his office on a daily basis. However, since 2016, only three cases have been reported.

According to Riuk, cases of sexual abuse involving refugees are high in host communities because many refugees do not know any better. “With the unrest back home, there’s no rule of law. So people do what they want. They have sex with whomever they want so they think the same applies here in the settlements,” he said.

Data from the 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey shows that one million women are exposed to sexual violence every year in Uganda. However, only 13 percent of the women aged 15 to 49 are estimated to report sexual violence cases to the authorities.

While Draru reported the case to police with the help of police, she now has to find a way of moving on. But it might be a while before this happens. Since the rape, she is scared of getting out of her grass thatched house and spends her days sitting in the dark.

She looks like a helpless injured bird that is scared of her surroundings. Juliet Dipio, Draru’s mother says that her daughter will have to move with the shame of what happened to her.

“We live in a very small community and as such everyone knows what happened to my daughter. And because of this, she will never get married. Which man will want her now?,” she asked.