Uganda - A Pioneer in Serving One Million South Sudan Refugees
by Kevin Chiu, Chief Executive Officer of World Vision Hong Kong

I often left refugee camps heavy-hearted and broken due to the horrific experiences and hopelessness of the refugees. My recent visit to northern Uganda in the midst of one million South Sudanese refugees, however, was a surprising exception — I left feeling unusually encouraged and hopeful. Let me explain.

South Sudan became an independent country in 2011 but broke into civil war in 2013. Conflict displaced more than four million people and sent two million fleeing the country. One million went south to Uganda. They walked for two weeks to a month to find safety there. Many parents were killed and 60% of the refugees were children.

While most, if not all, governments resist or downright refuse the arrival of refugees, the Ugandan Government welcomed the South Sudanese with open arms. Together with UN agencies and international NGOs like World Vision, the Government implemented programmes promptly to settle them - from orderly registration, medical checks and hot meals upon arrival, to shelter, clean water and sanitation facilities, child protection, education, food and livelihood.

"We don't treat them as refugees - we see them as migrants. If they want to settle here for 10 years or for good, we are happy. If they want to return to their own country after the conflict, we are equally happy. They are our brothers and sisters," the top Government commander of the camp told us. I was inspired by his big heart!

In one of World Vision's Child Friendly Spaces where 500 children gather daily, children in different age groups were engaged in different activities. Some were singing, some were drawing, some were playing games, some were playing soccer, some were dancing... They were doing what children everywhere do. No more hiding in the bushes. No more begging for food. No more fleeing at night. We saw smiling faces and we heard lots of laughter!

In Bidi Bidi Refugee Camp, which hosts 300,000 refugees and is the world's largest refugee settlement now, World Vision is partnering with World Food Programme to distribute 5,000 tons of food every month. It is done in a very organised and orderly manner. People would get their ration once a month and the food mix would satisfy the nutrient and energy requirements.

Other innovative programmes include: The Government was distributing land to families so that they could start farming to provide for their own; unaccompanied children (without parents) would be fostered by other families who were willing; host communities would participate in the planning and implementation of refugee assistance programmes so that integration would be smooth.

"The refugees are crossing the border every day as conflict continues. The number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda is expected to go up rapidly, maybe 2 million by end of 2018." Paul, our Programme Head, was not optimistic about the crisis.

Uganda is a poor country yet it is now the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa. The Government of Uganda sets a good example of loving our neighbours! Uganda cannot do this alone. They open their borders, they welcome the South Sudanese refugees, they give them land, but they need the international community to come along and chip in the required resources - it takes a substantial lot to feed and keep one or two million people, even daily!

World Vision is committed to doing our utmost! Please join us.

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