ARUA, KOBOKO, YUMBE, UGANDA - The buses keep rolling in, bringing more South Sudanese from border points in northern Uganda to refugee settlements, their new homes for the foreseeable future. Africa’s biggest refugee crisis is becoming bigger by the day.
One of those border crossings is in Busia, where only a short footbridge separates South Sudan from Uganda. Rebel soldiers keep watch on the South Sudanese side, while Ugandan security forces directly opposite them check that refugees aren’t bringing weapons into the country. Men with motorcycles and bicycles make a bit of money ferrying luggage across this unassuming border. The newcomers often arrive malnourished, thirsty and exhausted.
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One of the new arrivals is 30-year-old Abui John Tadeo, who was a mathematics teacher before he fled on foot with his wife and three children. As he waited for a bus to take him and his family to Kuluba, a collection point, before heading to a refugee settlement, he told VOA why he left South Sudan.
“I need to leave Yei because there is a lot of shooting, looting, so we are tired,” said Tadeo. “That is why we need to leave Yei, so that we rest a little bit.”
Like Tadeo, many of these new arrivals are from Yei and other places in the Equatoria region, which has experienced intense fighting. More than 816,000 South Sudanese refugees have come to Uganda fleeing violence.
“I came to Uganda because life is hard and risky,” said Susan Gune, who stays with her family in the Imvepi refugee settlement. “We don’t move because people were killing us, chasing us to the bush, burning us inside our houses. Here, we have a secure life.”
Gune adds that sexual violence is another worry in South Sudan.
“They rape the women, and after they rape you, sometimes they kill you. Sometimes, after raping you, they remove all your clothes, to leave you naked. Then they go,” she said.
The United Nations says that more than 86 percent of new arrivals are women and children.
Esther Akujo is a 24-year-old refugee from Yei who traveled alone with her three children to Uganda. She says her husband was arrested before they left and she still doesn’t know his whereabouts.
“There’s no more food; people are starving; there’s no medical access,” said Akujo. “There are no roads for the food to get into town. When people are bringing the food from the rural areas, the armed men collect it and the people are suffering in the town.”
While life at home was difficult, Rose Nyonga said so too was the journey to Uganda.
“For 14 days, we walked day and night, surviving on wild fruits and stagnant water,” she said.
Fabian Richard Wani trekked for 10 days with his wife, children and a group of orphans from Yei. Despite the challenges, he said he still has hope for his country.
“I am looking for the future of the country,” said Wani. “And for us to receive the peace, we need to be Godly fearing people and the leaders should also accept their mistakes and see the suffering of their own citizens so that the future of the country will be very bright.”
Refugees in the Ugandan settlements are given a 50-meter by 50-meter plot of land to be used for shelter and small cultivation, in addition to food, water, non-food items, health services and children’s education. They also enjoy freedom of movement and are permitted to start their own businesses.