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UNHCR's Filippo Grandi calls attention to the plight of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda visit

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UNHCR's Filippo Grandi calls attention to the plight of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda visit

30 August 2016

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, today called for greater international attention to the plight of South Sudanese refugees as well as donor support for Uganda's exceptional open-door approach towards people fleeing conflict in neighbouring countries.

Speaking at the end of a two-day visit to the East African country, Grandi appealed to the leaders of South Sudan to behave responsibly and end the violence and instability that is forcing their people to go into exile.

"Leaders should not ignore the plight of their people," he said citing armed conflict, rape of women and children, killings, abductions and the general state of lawlessness that are forcing citizens of all ages to flee different parts of the country.

The UN refugee chief visited Adjumani District where a majority of the 90,000 recent arrivals have sought refuge. He was accompanied by Hon. Hillary Onek-Uganda's Minister for Disaster Preparedness Management and Refugees, Mr. David Apollo Kazungu-Commissioner for Refugees, Ms. Rosa Malango-United Nations Resident Coordinator in Uganda, and other senior officials.

In Nyamwanzi Transit Centre, a 3,500-capacity facility currently holding 7,000 refugees, the High Commissioner heard refugees describe the terrifying acts of violence that caused them to flee South Sudan. They expressed fears that prevailing insecurity would not end soon. Grandi saw first-hand the health and protection risks of overcrowding. Refugees entering Uganda since July 2016 have been using entry points in different districts, requiring major logistical operations to bring them to safety. The speed of the influx had stretched the capacities of partners and host communities.

At Pagirinya Refugee Settlement, the High Commissioner remarked that in his long experience working with refugees, he had rarely seen so many people settled with land, and with houses already constructed in such a short time. He commended the tremendous efforts of national, UN and NGO actors that helped to decongest reception sites and to contain a cholera outbreak. Established two months ago, Pagirinya has already reached full capacity with 22,000 refugees. It has proper access roads, and partners are providing vital services in health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene albeit on a limited scale.

Refugees in Pagirinya presented the UN refugee chief with a memorandum outlining difficulties they are facing in the areas of water, food, shelter health and education. The memorandum cited special concerns about the situation of children, among whom many are orphans, and youth. The High Commissioner responded with assurances that he would spare no effort in calling for strong support from donors to meet their needs.

The High Commissioner lamented the donor response to the multi-agency regional appeal for South Sudanese refugees, which is funded about 20% of current requirements. Emphasizing the need for urgent and predictable resources to avert a crisis, he applauded continuing efforts to prevent congestion, combat moderate and severe malnutrition among children, and carry out protection interventions. He reiterated Hon. Onek's call to refugees to respect rule of law.

In Kampala, the High Commissioner met with Ugandan Prime Minister, Ruhakana Rugunda. He urged the government of Uganda to redouble its efforts to bring a political solution to the situation in South Sudan.He lauded Uganda's solidarity with those fleeing wars in the region, and its forward-looking aspiration to work with the United Nations and partners to transform refugees into a productive economic force as a means to promoting regional stability.

"Uganda's approach constitutes a rare example of a country unreservedly opening its doors to refugees and not treating them as a burden in a world where increasingly refugees are being turned away," the High Commissioner said in meetings with members of the diplomatic community and with officials of aid organizations. He commended the strong partnership between humanitarian and development actors who are engaged in refugee response, and appealed for strong international support to aid the government of Uganda to maintain its solidarity with refugees. 

The Government of Uganda has gazetted land for refugee settlements, and gives plots for agricultural use to each rural-based refugee family. Where land has not been gazetted, the government negotiates for land with leaders from the host community. Significantly, Uganda has included refugees in its national development strategy.

Uganda currently has a population of over 613,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. Over 90% are from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Somalia. A sizeable majority of the refugees arrived in the last five years.

Media contacts:

In Nairobi, Teresa Ongaro, [email protected] +254 735 337 608 

In Kampala, Charlie Yaxley, [email protected] +256 (0) 776 720 045

In Geneva, Nora Sturm, [email protected] +41 79 200 7618