Sudanese influx could overstretch Uganda's resources, warns UNHCR
KAMPALA, Uganda, Nov 19 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has cautioned that an ongoing exodus of refugees from south Sudan into Uganda - more than 3,000 in the last month alone - could stretch the resources of a country that already hosts the largest concentration of south Sudanese refugees in Africa.
Some 3,200 refugees from south Sudan have fled into northern Uganda's districts of Moyo, Adjumani, Arua and Yumbe in the past month. This is in addition to another 1,000 who had registered in September.
According to the refugees, they were fleeing a growing number of raids by the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), from its bases in south Sudan. In recent months, fighting along the border has intensified as a result of attempts by the Ugandan government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) to rout the rebels out of south Sudan.
A severe food shortage due to crop failure in the area appears to be another reason the refugees are fleeing south Sudan.
"Our office in Kampala is concerned that this continuing influx is stretching Uganda's resources to their limits," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond at a news briefing in Geneva on Friday. He noted that even before the recent arrivals, the country already hosts Africa's largest concentration of refugees from south Sudan. Some 187,000 of the 220,000 refugees in Uganda are Sudanese.
Two decades of civil war between governmental troops and the SPLA have left south Sudan in ruins, driven more than half a million Sudanese into the region, and displaced 3 million others within the country. The fighting slowly came to a halt over the last two years. On Friday, the two warring sides signed a pledge of peace at a special meeting of the UN Security Council in Nairobi, paving the way for a comprehensive peace agreement to be reached soon.
"UNHCR plans to start a voluntary repatriation programme to south Sudan shortly after the signing of this agreement, provided conditions at that time are conducive to safe and dignified return," said Redmond.
For the hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees who could not wait and have gone home on their own, UNHCR has launched a series of projects in south Sudan in the areas of water, health and sanitation, as well as education. These activities will also help to strengthen the region's capacity to receive returnees in the future.
Redmond added that this operation, crucial to the rebuilding of south Sudan, is currently severely under-funded.