Over 760,000 South Sudanese fled their country in 2016 with the majority heading into Uganda. At the height of the influx Uganda was receiving over 7,000 refugees from South Sudan a day (pictured). It is now the largest host nation on the continent with an estimated 575,000 South Sudanese refugees.
Our team in Uganda are welcoming those fleeing as they cross the South Sudan - Uganda border into camps on land set aside by the Uganda Government. Uganda is the most welcoming country to refugees where they have the right to work and are given land within the camps on their arrival.
Tim, our Country Programme Manager for Uganda, recently travelled to the border and met with our teams and many arriving South Sudanese . This is what he saw:
1. Crossing the border
When the South Sudanese arrive at the Ugandan border they are met by our teams who hand out high energy biscuits and water. Those arriving are so exhausted and hungry from their journey having walked for days, sometimes weeks to reach the crossing. Many too, walk with a sense of fear as fighting continues around them, while carrying the last of everything they own.
Everyone is put onto buses, which run day and night, along with their belongings and are transported into Uganda to their first stop where they officially become a refugee.
2. The first welcome at the official registration centre
The bus pulls up at this tent set up as a registration centre where every refugee must come to register for the camps.
Registration is important as it informs the UN, our teams, and wider international community the level of the crisis and the aid required to respond such as food, shelter and water.
3. Everything they own is left outside
At the registration centre I noticed that all the bags were left outside. It is a compulsory measure by the teams that run registration to keep the space safe, but it must be so hard for people who have already taken only what they can carry to part it with it.
4. Then they must queue
Then I saw the queue inside the tent. The day before I visited the centre they told me they had 2,000 people through the site, on average 84 people an hour. At the height of the crisis it was over 7,000 and I started to wonder how this tent coped with such huge numbers.
It is hot and sticky and the tent swells with people from different tribal groups who back in South Sudan are fighting each other. Tensions can be high at times so it is important that registration is done smoothly and with a clear process for all to understand.
5. Becoming an official refugee
Registration entitles a person to receive food rations, shelter and other supplies at the camps. It can be a long process as many people arrive without identification.
6. Working with children who cross the border alone
I found World Vision hard at work in the centre working alongside unaccompanied children. These children have crossed the border on their own, or gotten lost from families members along the way. Our Child Protection work starts right here to keep these vulnerable children safe and help them find relatives or foster parents amongst the camps who can support them.
7. Preparation for the first night
Once they have been registered, each person receives blankets and a mat to keep them warm for the nights ahead.
8. A hot meal for all
A hot dinner is then served by World Vision with support of the World Food Programme to every refugee who has travelled over the border that day. World Vision is the lead provider in food for these refugees and I was impressed how they cook for so many every single day.
9. The first night's stay
I was then shown these two tents. They provide accommodation for the night before they are officially given land inside one of the refugee camps. The tent on the left is for males, the tent on the right for females. This is a safety precaution as tension can be high after the journey to the border and the registration process. It is hard to see children separated by gender too which leads to many families being split apart for the night.
10. In the morning comes breakfast
When morning comes, our team greets everyone with a hot breakfast. The team are up some mornings at 3am to prepare such large amounts of food for the group. Everyone is able to have a hot meal to help them gain energy after their journey. After breakfast the group are taken to the refugee camps to be allocated a plot of land and given some basic materials to build a shelter. From there, they receive food rations to support them and water is trucked to the camp daily to meet the needs of thousands.
Our teams then clean up from breakfast and start cooking dinner for the next group.
11. Then our team does it all again as the next group arrive
As the last group leaves for their camp, I turned and saw that already three more buses had arrived at the registration centre. The work here never stops.
Children in Crisis
Our Children in Crisis fund currently supports work in four countries restoring children’s basic rights to food, water, education, healthcare, and protection from abuse and exploitation because of circumstances beyond their control. The fund ensures that when crisis takes place we can respond immediately to the needs. We will not stand by as children’s lives are lost or compromised. Join us.