Last month, the UN and the World Food Program officially declared a famine in South Sudan, brought on by drought combined with three years of civil war. The number of refugees fleeing the war has now passed the 1.5 million mark. It's become Africa’s largest refugee crisis and the world’s third largest, after Syria and Afghanistan.
Northern Uganda has received about half a million South Sudanese refugees since the conflict reignited in July.
Anywhere else, the sheer number of arrivals might cause discord — and yet in Uganda, it works.
Speaking at the headquarters of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the town of Yumbe, in the West Nile region of Uganda, Senior Emergency Coordinator Nasir Fernandes said the crisis has stretched the resources of the UN’s underfunded refugee agency. His team is working with just 36 percent of the funds required to deal with a situation of this magnitude.
“This has been a large scale emergency,” Fernandes said. “We’ve been able to do very well in terms of life saving but we have not been able to do beyond life saving. You’ve seen the structures in the settlement, they’re all very temporary.”
Still, Fernandes said, there is reason for optimism, and it all comes down to Uganda’s unusual and progressive refugee policy.
“They get 30 by 30 meters(nearly 100 by 100 feet) of residential plots and now they will be getting 50 by 50 meters of agricultural plots so they can be self-sustaining,” he said. “And once a person is registered as a refugee, [he or she] has all the documents, freedom of movement, they can go anywhere, can be employed. And that is really an example for the world.”
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