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Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - Uganda shows it cares

Refugees Magazine, 1 March 1997

In many parts of the world asylum-seekers are increasingly unwelcome visitors. Uganda is not only keeping the spirit of asylum alive, but also helping refugees start a new life by helping them build houses and farms in new resettlement sites. The immediate beneficiaries include 230,000 refugees from Sudan's ongoing civil war. People like Moses Taban and Lilian Juwaa.

Interviews by Wendy Rappeport

Taban's family was recently transferred from a nearby transit camp to the Maaji refugee settlement in northern Uganda. They received a one-month food ration, plastic sheets for shelter, kitchen sets and land to build a home and cultivate local crops. The 17-year-old teenager sits outside his mother's newly built hut built atop a small hill and looks over the brown scrub brush to the nearby Nile River as he tells his story:

"The war in my home district began in 1987. During those early years soldiers would enter the village and begin beating people for nothing. We don't know why. If they needed food we gave it to them," he recalls. Three years later his family decided to leave his home area of Kajo Keiji, beginning a trek which would last for several years until they arrived in Uganda.

Like most Sudanese refugees "we arrived in Uganda on foot my father and mother, four brothers and a sister," Taban said. "We crossed a thick forest and reached the town of Moyo. But there was nothing there for us. UNHCR gave us clothes and we stayed for one month."

At one point members of the family returned to Sudan to collect food and a few remaining belongings before moving on to a transit camp in Oliji. "We were given blankets, saucepans and food," Taban recalls. "There was a health centre run by Médecins Sans Frontières, boreholes for water and homes. We felt safe there" and they stayed until February when they transferred again to their current home in Maaji.

Each family was given a plot of land measuring 0.3 hectares. "We have been here nearly one month. My brothers and I have made a house for our mother," Taban said. "We have not dug a latrine; we are waiting for the sanitation officer to tell us where we should place this. AICF (Action Internationale Contre la Faim) distributes food to us, until we have harvested our crops. I am also in school. I do not know when we will ever return to the Sudan, so we must try to make our life here."

Juwaa, a 28-year-old single mother of five children, also comes from Kajo Keji. She left Sudan in 1993 after her village became a battleground between government troops and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army.

"One day there were gunshots in my village. I ran away with my husband because the SPLA arrested the head of the village and forced other men to join them. They also took away our possessions and we were told they raped the women. When I heard all these stories I feared the same things could happen to me.

"The journey to Uganda took two days walking through thick bush carrying the small children on our backs," Lilian remembered. After a couple of brief transit stops the family arrived at Ogujebe transit centre but the war and flight had taken a major toll. "My husband died soon after arriving in Ogujebe," she said. "I was left with four children. A fifth one was one month old in the womb when his father died."

Eventually she too moved to the Maaji resettlement area where "I have been given land to cultivate and we are now waiting for the rainy season to grow maize and vegetables. My children are also in school."

Lilian and Taban are content for the moment. They are grateful the Ugandans have been so welcoming and helpful in giving them what they needed most safety and a small plot of land to grow things. Despite this kindness they eventually want to return to Sudan. The current good life is simply a preparation for an eventual homecoming.

Source: Refugees Magazine issue 107 (1997)




UNHCR country pages

A Time Between: Moving on from Internal Displacement in Uganda

This document examines the situation of IDPs in Acholiland in northern Uganda, through the stories of individuals who have lived through conflict and displacement.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

A Refugee Settlement Rises Again in Northern Uganda

Fighting in South Sudan between government troops and rival forces since December has displaced tens of thousands of people, many of whom have sought shelter at temporary transit and reception centres just inside northern Uganda. The UN refugee agency has since early January reopened three former refugee settlements and moved an estimated 50,000 to these sites deeper inside Uganda, where it is easier to provide them with protection and assistance. After being taken by truck to one such settlement, Nyumanzi I, lying some 30 kilometres from the border, the new arrivals are given relief items such as food, blankets, mats and kitchenware as well as a plot of land from the government on which to build a shelter. The settlement has been filling up quickly. UNHCR and partners have been working around the clock to build roads, install water distribution networks and provide access to health care. By early February, homes and small shops had sprung up across the settlement as the South Sudanese got on with their lives while closely monitoring the situation back home in the hope of one day returning.

A Refugee Settlement Rises Again in Northern Uganda

Matiop's First Days as a Refugee in Uganda

After fighting engulfed his hometown of Bor in South Sudan last December, Matiop Atem Angang fled with his extended family of 15 - including his 95-year-old mother, his six children and his sister's family. They left the capital of Jonglei state, one of the areas worst affected by the violence of the last two months. A one-week journey by boat and truck brought them to safety in neighbouring Uganda.

At the border, Matiop's large family was taken to a UNHCR-run transit centre, Dzaipi, in the northern district of Adjumani. But with thousands of South Sudanese refugees arriving every day, the facility quickly became overcrowded. By mid-February, the UN refugee agency had managed to transfer refugees to their own plots of land where they will be able to live until it is safe for them to go home. Uganda is one of very few countries that allow refugees to live like local citizens. These photos follow Matiop through the process of registering as a refugee in Uganda - an experience he shares with some 70,000 of his compatriots.

Matiop's First Days as a Refugee in Uganda

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South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety

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Uganda: Unique Approach For South Sudanese

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