European Union officials, donor states visit refugees in Uganda

Representatives from the European Union and a number of donor states have visited South Sudanese refugees in Uganda for a first-hand account of their plight.
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At least five thousand are arriving on a daily basis in Uganda from the Uraba border point in the country’s west. The latest estimates indicate that there are currently over 700,000 South Sudanese refugees seeking asylum in neighboring Uganda.

“What has happened is that the crisis has now reached new dimensions and therefore, a scale of operation is necessary,” said Kristian Shmidt, the head of the visiting EU delegation, in Oraba, western Uganda.

Lack of funding, however, has forced the UN refugee agency to significantly reduce its free meal program.

“Because of hunger, we ran to the bush and stayed there for almost a month. There was no medicine, no food, and then we decided to run to Uganda,” said one refugee.

Late last month, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called for greater international attention to the plight of the refugees as well as donor support for Uganda’s exceptional open-door approach towards the people fleeing conflict in neighboring countries.

“Leaders should not ignore the plight of their people,” he said, citing armed conflict, rape of women and children, killings, abductions, and the general state of lawlessness that are forcing the Sudanese to flee the country.

“Uganda’s approach constitutes a rare example of a country unreservedly opening its doors to refugees and not treating them as a burden in a world where increasingly refugees are being turned away,” Grandi, however, said.

South Sudan has witnessed a new wave of conflicts since July 8, when gunfire erupted near the state house in Juba, where President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar were meeting for talks. More than 300 people have been killed in the clashes.

The country gained independence from Sudan in 2011. It has gone through turmoil ever since.