UN declares South Sudan, Africa's largest refugee crisis

File: Children displaced by fighting in South Sudan wait to be registered into the Kule 1 and 2 camps for Internally Displaced People at the Pagak border crossing in Ethiopia. The UN says South Sudan's civil war is causing Africa's largest refugee crisis. Photo: AFP / ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER

ADJUMANI, UGANDA - Thousands of refugees continue to arrive in Uganda to escape attacks from armed forces in South Sudan.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says the situation has made South Sudan,Africa's largest refugee crisis and the world's third largest after Syria and Afghanistan, with less attention and chronic levels of underfunding.

READ: South Sudanese general cites 'ethnic cleansing' for resignation

Uganda is already hosting over half a million of South Sudan's 1.5 million refugees forced to leave their homes and seek safety since conflict erupted in the country in December 2013.

South Sudan was plunged into a sporadic civil war when Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, fired his deputy, an ethnic Nuer. Rights groups and UN monitors say soldiers have gang-raped women based on their ethnicity since.

Rape by rebels has also been reported.

Thirty-year-old Hawa and her six children recently arrived in Kuluba, a small town in northern Uganda close to one of the many points along the border with South Sudan.

She is among refugees streaming into Uganda since intense fighting broke out again in July last year following the collapse of a peace deal between the government and opposition forces.

"I had just planted some crops and I was waiting to harvest. I lost everything because of the war, they are killing people, and many people have died. I was scared for my life," said Hawa.

The latest influx is straining the capacity of transit and reception centres, which are too small for the growing number of arrivals.

Uganda is widely recognised as having progressive and forward-thinking refugee and asylum policies.

Upon receiving refugee status, refugees are provided with small areas of land in villages integrated within the local host communities.

According to UNHCR, more than 52,000 refugees have been received in Uganda since January 2017.

Raimon Towongo barely escaped his hometown on an old bicycle. He lost everything when his village was attacked.

"Look at me. I'm wearing torn, dirty clothes. We sleep in the bush. This is a terrible situation," said Towongo.

In 2016, the humanitarian appeal for the South Sudan response received less than 75 percent of the funds needed to meet the demands. Without further contributions, the abilities of the humanitarian response to provide critical aid and key basic services could become severely compromised according to the UN.


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