South Sudanese refugees in Uganda now exceed 1 million
Under a sunny sky, 14-year-old Tabu Sunday is clearing weeds from a small garden, in the Imvepi refugee settlement in northern Uganda. Tabu is proud of the work she is doing around the house, even though it is not hers.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has chosen Tabu as the symbolic 1 millionth South Sudanese refugee seeking safety in Uganda since last July, when an unprecedented surge of refugee arrivals began.
The plot belongs to her foster mother, Harriet, who is also from South Sudan. Harriet noticed her own four children playing with Tabu, her twin sister Rena and 11-year-old brother Emmanuel, who appeared to have no-one to care for them, and took them under her wing.
Tabu and her siblings had fled fighting in their home town of Yei with their aunt. Her parents sent them to Uganda so that the girls could continue to go to school.
“Where I was living they were killing people,” she said. “My parents said they didn't have enough money for travelling. So we had to walk on foot with my aunt.
“It was a long and hard journey. We had to use the Congo route to reach Uganda. My aunt stayed for a week and decided to return home.
“After she left, we were playing with our foster parents’ children and their mother saw we were alone. She requested that we stay with her, here in her home."
Home for Tabu is a 30-metre-square plot of land, which is given to all refugee families when they arrive. Tabu and her siblings lives in a separate building from their foster family, which gives the youngsters privacy to sleep, read and study.
In a statement, UNHCR, notes that an average of more than 1,800 South Sudanese refugees a day have fled to Uganda in the past year. The influx has become the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world. More than 85 per cent of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda are women and children under the age of 18.
However, it said that despite, hosting a Solidarity Summit in June, the agency had received just 21 per cent of the US$674 million needed to support the South Sudanese refugees in Uganda for 2017.
In addition to the million refugees now hosted by Uganda, a million or even more South Sudanese refugees are being hosted by Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic.
“With the crisis currently showing no end in sight, decisive action is required and there is an urgent need for pledges of support to be fulfilled,” the statement added.
Uganda deserves praise for maintaining open borders to refugees and for its progressive approach to asylum.
“With the crisis currently showing no end in sight, decisive action is required."
It provides refugees with land on which to build a shelter and grow crops, gives them freedom of movement and the right to work, and grants them access to public services such as health care and education.
Tall, slim and energetic, Tabu likes to help her foster mother by weeding their small vegetable garden, washing clothes and cooking dishes of millet and beans.
She is a dedicated student and wants to stay in Uganda so she can carry on attending school. “I'm in primary five and my favourite subjects are religious education and mathematics,” she says.
However, she finds it a struggle with more than 200 students in her class. "When the teacher is teaching others are making noise and we don't get what they are teaching.”
Despite the challenges, Tabu is determined to learn and spends much of her free time doing homework. She and her siblings believe a good education will help them achieve their dreams. Tabu’s sister, Rena, hopes to become a mayor and their brother, Emmanuel, wants to be a pilot.
Tabu has her sights set on medicine. "I want to be a doctor because when someone falls sick, or a woman needs to deliver a baby, I can help."