10 August 2017

Uganda: German Foreign Minister Visits South Sudan Refugees in Uganda

Nearly 1 million refugees from South Sudan have now crossed the border to Uganda. Kampala is hoping for more support from Germany after Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's top diplomat, visited the refugees.

When the rebels came, Susan Keji took her one-year-old daughter and fled. Away from her hometown of Yei insouthern Sudan and as far away as possible from Africa's worst ongoing civil war. "They killed my father and mother," the 22-year-old says in a low voice, while her dark eyes stare at an invisible point on the red earth.

Together with her aunt, Susan Keji managed to get to Uganda. Since April 2016, the Rhino refugee camp in northern Uganda has become their home.

Some 91,000 refugees live here. In addition to her straw-roofed circular hut, the young woman has been allocated a small piece of land on which she plants cassava. "This place is good, it can give us food, but water is a big problem," says Susan Keji. "Water is not enough for us, our schools and hospitals are not good either."

Uganda: a model for refugee policy

Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel is only a few meters away from her field. Instead of his usual suit, he's dressed casually. "The fact that a country like Uganda, which is itself poor, opens its borders to people who are fleeing the civil war is really impressive," the minister says.

Uganda's refugee policy is considered exemplary worldwide. Like Susan Keji, other refugees in Uganda are given a piece of land by the state in order to grow something. They can look for a job, go to school and move freely in the country. But Uganda is reaching its limits. Soon, the east African nation, with a population of 38 million people, will be host to 1 million South Sudanese refugees. Together with therefugees from Congo and Burundi,that number rises to 1.3 million.

"These people need to be fed, they need medical help and protection," says Uganda's Minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness, Francis Ecweru. Uganda will continue to receive refugees, he tells DW. But he adds that, if his country does not get the necessary aid, that would be a disaster."The international community has a responsibility to support Uganda."

More classrooms and food needed

During his visit to the camp, Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel gets a firsthand experience of how Uganda is reaching its limits. In the local school, around 200 children are crowded on shaky wooden benches in a classroom. "When you sit in the last row, you can hardly hear what the teacher says in front, " the class teacher tells DW. Three classes have been combined and are taught at the same time in one room, the headmaster says. There is an urgent need for classrooms but the money is missing. In other schools, children are taught under trees.

At this school, Minister Gabriel gives footballs to some of the children. The UN refugee agency would probably have preferred money. The UN needs 624 million euros ($731 million) to support the South Sudanese refugees in Uganda alone. However, the UN has only received about 30 percent of this sum. If the money does not come, the situation could become difficult. Food aid for the refugees is secured until September. But Kemlin Furley, UNHCR Deputy Representative to Uganda, does not know what will happen after that.

Uncertain future

"The tension is there already, it's a very generous government policy towards refugees, and the population is very hospitable," Furley tells DW. "But you can only push it so far. If the pressure on the schools, clinics and so on continues, plus a lot of youth unemployment, that's not a good recipe for the future".

The German minister is also aware of this. "We are trying to help, we have significantly expanded our humanitarian aid," he tells the accompanying journalists. "But at the same time, we see here that it's not enough."

This year Germany is giving 90 million euros as humanitarian aid for the South Sudan crisis. Of that sum, 14 million euros will go to Uganda. Germany will do more in the coming years, Gabriel promises. However, he does not make any specific commitments. Uganda's government, the UN and the refugees in the Rhino camp will have to wait and hope that the necessary funds will arrive sooner rather than later.

Travelling the Ugandan border with South Sudan

On the road

Northern Uganda. Country manager Sheila Mysorekar and project manager Aarni Kuoppamäki are on the road, visiting partner broadcasters of DW Akademie. Travelling to radios in remote places near the South Sudanese border is often arduous. It is hot, the journey is long, and it is better not to travel at night. They set out at dawn, on their way from Adjumani to the north, towards South Sudan.

Travelling the Ugandan border with South Sudan

Waiting for the ferry

The White Nile. The ferry runs at irregular times, so you are in for a long wait. The local residents claim that there are lots of crocodiles in the river, but they are impossible to spot.

Travelling the Ugandan border with South Sudan

Crossing the Nile

Sheila Mysorekar, country manager South Sudan, on a ferry crossing the Nile. The next destination is Moyo. The partner stations of DW Akademie are located in remote areas and therefore not easy to reach.

Travelling the Ugandan border with South Sudan

Solar radio

The radios in this region of Uganda face a lot of challenges: lack of funds, electricity cuts, and also economic and social challenges due to the civil war in the neighbouring country South Sudan. A staff member of Usalaama shows a simple radio, operated by solar energy. These radios are being distributed amongst South Sudanese refugees in this area, in order to enable them to access information.

Travelling the Ugandan border with South Sudan

Fixing the tire

On the road again - and a puncture. Project manager Aarni Kuoppamäki and the driver change the flat tire. A reliable driver who knows the area and speaks the local languages is absolutely vital.

Travelling the Ugandan border with South Sudan

Fleeing South Sudan

Northern Uganda, refugee camp Palorinya, founded in January 2017. Now, mere five months later, more than 153.000 refugees are living here. The majority hail from South Sudan. On the left you can see the original village, on the right the tents set up by UNHCR.

Travelling the Ugandan border with South Sudan

Vital water

Palorinya refugee camp: Filling up the watering place. The people here are lacking everything, because day after day, more refugees arrive, fleeing from the civil war in South Sudan.

Travelling the Ugandan border with South Sudan

Precious radio

Palorinya refugee camp: A small boy with his few belongings: a bowl of maize flour - and a radio.

Travelling the Ugandan border with South Sudan

War widows

Palorinya refugee camp: These women arrived recently. With their children, they walked hundreds of miles all the way from southeastern South Sudan. All of them are widows - their husbands were killed by militia.

Travelling the Ugandan border with South Sudan

Learning in shifts

Palorinya refugee camp: South Sudanese refugee youth in a makeshift school set up by UNHCR and UNICEF. The teachers are Ugandans who teach the children in several shifts per day.


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