The current situation in Rhino Camp, Uganda

We have been involved with 10 pastors and leaders since 2017. Two (Joseph, Emanuel) went back to South Sudan and I lost contact with them. I have no information on the current position of Anthony Felix. Christine moved to Arua and is planning to go to Juba. The others are all still there: Felix, Emmanuel, Taban, Michael, Emma and Israel.

These are not mere names to us. We know them personally and we have first hand experience of the circumstances because we lived amongst them for 3 months from November 2019 – January 2020.

The situation in Rhino Camp, Uganda is reaching a critical tipping point with dire consequences for the refugees.

Over the past two years things have slowly shifted away from disaster management. This was visible in the following areas:

  • The withdrawal of NGO’s involved in disaster management
  • The introduction of “water-on-tap” to be paid for according to usage
  • The reduction in food rations by UNHCR (WFP)
  • The increase in fees for learners in schools
  • The decrease in medical care in the camp

It is clear that the UNHCR is under pressure and the message to the refugees are clear: “You need to take care of yourselves.” The purpose of the current verification process seems to be aimed at not only verifying the total number of eligible refugees but to identify the number of vulnerable people – elderly, ill, orphans etc. With the available food it seems likely that the UNHCR will focus food provision on the number of vulnerable people in the future. All others will have to provide for themselves.

The current verification process can last until the end of September. The last food rations was distributed at the end of July. There will be no rations issued whilst the verification process is conducted at the food distribution centres. After the numbers has been verified at the end of September a decision will be taken by the UNHCR on future rations and to whom.

The refugees are trying to be self sustainable, but they have not been supported in this effort:

  • They are crop farmers, but there are not any land made available for them. They have to rent land from local land owners. Once they have a crop, the rent needs to be paid.
  • The quality of available soil to cultivate is very poor.
  • The weather is very unpredictable with less rain than usual, making it difficult to raise a crop.
  • Goat and Poultry farming has been profitable to some, but they suffer from theft and illnesses that they are not able to prevent or treat.

If rations will be discontinued by the UNHCR for all able refugees (not vulnerable) more of them will look for soil to cultivate. The higher demand will lead to increase in the cost of available land. This can lead to conflict between refugees and local land owners because of the pressure on available resources.

If this happens, it will also have a negative impact on the morale of the community that are already at a very low level. The prevalence of domestic violence, teenage pregnancies and marriages, suicide and other social problems are only indicators of the severe strain on the refugee community.

Many have decided to return to South Sudan, with regular reports that those who did not make it to Juba have been killed on the way in skirmishes with rebel and / or government forces. It seems that the safety and security situation in rural South Sudan (Where the refugees came from) are not condusive to a return to their homeland. There seems to be and very little effort no political solution for the internal conflict in sight.

The choice to stay in the camp or to return to their home land seems to be no choice at all. They are caught between a rock and a hard place, with no way out.

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