Thousands of South Sudanese seek refuge in neighbouring countries

Publié: 23 janvier 2014 15:16 CET

By Catherine Ntabadde Makumbi, Uganda Red Cross Society

When you approach the Elegu border between Uganda and South Sudan in Adjumani district, you notice a lot of petty trade going on. People swapping various items like food, porridge, and water. It is here that hundreds of children and women enter the Elegu transit camp. They are refugees from South Sudan and this is their main entry point into Uganda and to safety.

They started arriving in droves in mid-December when fighting broke out in the capital of Juba and quickly spread to other regions of the country. More than 120,000 people have since fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of others remain displaced from their homes within South Sudan.

At the Elegu transit camp in Uganda, the refugees stay here briefly before they are transported to the Dzaipi reception camp in Adjumani, about 30 kilometres away. Elegu does not have the infrastructure to house refugees for any length of time, just a few shelters and one water tank.

At the Dzaipi reception camp, there are 300 family tents to support the 44,900 refugees who are now staying there. Walking through the camp, you see refugees preparing meals, especially porridge and posho, or ugali. Those with some money are seen cutting pieces of meat, tomatoes and onions ready to fry and enjoy a good meal.

Children play while some adults take a nap in their open tents. Some children receive baby dolls compliments of the Uganda and Australian Red Cross Societies.

The Uganda Red Cross Society, as auxiliary to government, is supporting the Ugandan government with the influx of South Sudanese by registering and receiving refugees, providing first aid, reuniting families, promoting the importance of hygiene, preparing hot meals, and aiding the Ministry of Health in preventative immunizations to ward off outbreaks of disease including polio and measles. Between 800 and 900 children are being vaccinated daily.

“It is also very important that we mobilize volunteers to promote hygiene messages among the refugees,” says Dr Bildard Baguma, Under Secretary General of the Uganda Red Cross Society, during a visit to the camp. “The conditions they are living in are not ideal. They are very cramped and we want to help avoid any diarrhoea outbreak.”

62 Red Cross volunteers have been deployed to the Dzaipi camp, where space is being created by relocating some refugees to other locations. With support from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the National Society has identified 245 unaccompanied minors who crossed into Uganda, separated from their families. To date, 78 children have been successfully reunited with their relatives.

“To further establish contact with relatives in South Sudan, we are giving refugees access to mobile phones so they can call back home to share family news,” adds Baguma. “Each caller is allowed two minutes to tell their families where they are. So far, 859 refugees have been able to make contact with their families back home, letting them know they are safe.”

Early assessments by the Red Cross indicate the needs are tremendous and are likely to grow. Shelter and adequate water and sanitation are the main challenges, along with relocating refugees from the transit centre to camps, and language to communicate with the refugees. The society has identified volunteers who can act as translators to pass on relevant information.  

With close to 60,000 South Sudanese refugees now registered in Uganda, these needs will likely increase as the government and partners anticipate more refugees entering the country.

In other neighbouring countries, the situation is quite similar, with more than 60,000 people crossing borders into Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. Red Cross National Societies in those countries are also mobilizing volunteers to support the influx of refugees.

Within South Sudan itself, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has released 286,695 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support 40,000 internally displaced persons, with interventions focusing on the provision of water and sanitation.