ARUA, UGANDA - The ratio of South Sudanese refugees to local residents in the Arua district is now 1 to 4, according to the U.N. refugee agency. That puts nearly a quarter-million refugees in that district alone.
At the vast Imvempi settlement, a refugee named Susan, 23, digs the foundation for her new home using her bare hands and a metal bar.
Her baby cries nearby. Susan has had to dig 16 holes, each 60 centimeters long, in which to insert the logs.
"But, problem of house, is problem for me," she says. "The stone is very more; this one I suffer, nobody to help me."
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visited the settlement Tuesday, talking to new arrivals like Susan. She told of how her brother had been killed by rebels, leaving her to care for his three children in addition to her own.
'Please make peace'
Grandi made this appeal to the warring factions in South Sudan:
"Please make peace. We can't subject these people once again to exile, to suffering. We can't always take for granted the generosity of the Ugandan people. Really, we must ensure that peace comes, because everybody told me this morning, as in the past, 'If there is peace I will go back, because this is where I belong. It's my country.' "
Uganda is currently hosting 1.3 million refugees, nearly all of them from South Sudan.
The civil war started in 2013, and a 2015 peace deal quickly disintegrated. International monitors say a cease-fire signed in December was also violated in short order.
Serina Alex, 19, lives at Imvempi settlement. She has had no word on her seven family members since she fled her hometown of Yei.
"So many people are losing life in South Sudan — brothers and sisters, mothers and our fathers," she said. "They are losing lives in South Sudan because of the war. But I request the president of South Sudan that they could cool down and bring peace to South Sudan."
Grandi's visit to Uganda came ahead of a fresh funding appeal to be announced Thursday to meet the needs of more than 2.2 million displaced South Sudanese in 2018. Many of the displaced are children.