Uganda has received its millionth refugee from South Sudan, its neighbor consumed by civil war, the International Rescue Committee said today.
More than three quarters of them have crossed the border following a major uptick in violence in July 2016, and 86% of those who have settled in Uganda overall are women and children.
Since then, South Sudan has continued its downward spiral of violence, and a famine was declared for the first time in over six years in the country’s northern Unity state.
Uganda had two options: to try to keep refugees out because of the burden they may represent for a still developing country, or to embrace the refugees from South Sudan as brothers and sisters who needed help and a chance to start a new life somewhere safe.
Uganda and its leaders have chosen the second option.
Bidi Bidi refugee settlement is now the largest of over 20 settlements in Uganda, and also of its kind in the world. Refugees in Uganda are given land to live and grow crops on, tools to build new homes, education for their children and the right to work and start businesses.
However, the developing country is severely lacking the funds and resources to respond to the massive influx.
Low crop yield has also created significant food shortages and increased malnutrition (average global acute malnutrition 15%; anemia 40%) throughout the area.
The monthly food requirement for refugees is approximately US$15M, but WFP had to cut cereal rations in half in May.
There is critical need to establish long-term funding streams for the continuation of high quality programming, as only 17% of the around US$673M required for the overall response has been raised as of August 4.
“There is tragic irony that when Uganda is accepting its millionth refugee from South Sudan, with thousands more arriving every day, the United States and Europe, with such greater resources, are trying to close the door,” said David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee.
“There is a lesson here. We should be giving aid to countries like Uganda but we should also be standing with them. If Uganda can open its arms to the vulnerable fleeing war, so can the western world.”
The average income in Uganda is only US$962 per year. Yet in the United States, where the average income is about US$67,000, the Trump administration proposes to reduce the number of refugees that are allowed in to just 50,000.
What’s more, the administration’s Travel Ban, which took effect on July 13, has left thousands of vulnerable refugee families who were already due to be resettled in the US, stuck in a perilous limbo.
The average Ugandan earns 20 times less than the average European citizen, yet when one million refugees from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq arrived in Europe in 2015, the response from too many political leaders was to build walls and fences to try and keep them out, rather than welcoming them to safety.
“Despite unbelievable challenges, Uganda has shown leadership and compassion on the issue of refugees. We hope this can serve as a teaching moment for every country, especially the United States as the administration threatens to break away from the long bipartisan tradition of helping refugees,” Miliband said.
Uganda is now hosting 1 million South Sudanese refugees, leading the way in embracing the most vulnerable.
The IRC calls on US, Europe to support Uganda by sending humanitarian aid, and also share the responsibility of hosting refugees instead of vacating leadership