This is Jimmy. I met him when I visited the BidiBidi Refugee Settlement in Yumbe District, northern part of Uganda. Jimmy is a refugee from South Sudan. He came to Uganda with his mother, wife and children to escape the civil war. Jimmy used to work for the government in South Sudan when civil war broke out and he became a target for opposition forces.
By September 2017, the refugee population in Uganda had reached over 1.35 million people. 82% are women and children.
I don’t think a lot of people know much about Uganda, or can even point out the East African country on a map. To be honest, even I didn’t know much before working here. When we think of refugee-hosting countries, most of us probably think of high-income, western nations. Not a developing country like Uganda.
Uganda is the largest refugee hosting country in Africa and one of the largest asylums in the world. Data from UNHCR shows that most of the 3.2 million who were driven from their homes in the first half of 2016 found shelter in low- or middle-income countries. Uganda is one of those countries.
Uganda’s progressive refugee response plan has taken the approach that allows relief and asylum to (for those coming primarily from Burundi, DRC and South Sudan), while also planning for long-term stay. If refugees want to go home, they are supported. If they want to stay in Uganda, that’s okay too. Most want to go home, and will only stay if there is no other option. Right now, for many, the latter is the case. The Ugandan government has also taken the approach to involve refugees in the planning and management of the settlement. This means that people like Jimmy work with NGOs like CRS, to ensure that all people receive the services they need when it comes to food, water, shelter, protection and health.
Jimmy is a translator for CRS and helps us to conduct community meetings and coordinate activities with community hygiene promoters (South Sudanese refugees trained by CRS) and workers (comprised of both Ugandan and South Sudanese folks) helping to construct shelters.
Talking to Jimmy, he told me that at first it was really tough for him. He felt defeated. Meeting him now, with a big smile on his face, I could never tell. Jimmy is a natural leader. Watching him play with his children, I was touched to see him in high spirits. Actually, a lot of people were in high spirits. I shared my thoughts with Jimmy, that it was an inspiration to see people who had gone through so much be so positive, strong, working hard. He let out a sigh and told me that it had been a journey. It wasn’t like this at first, he didn’t know if he and his family would survive. Uganda has given him hope, has raised his spirits. He went back to South Sudan recently, thinking that he would prepare for his family’s return back. After seeing the conditions, he believes he will stay a while longer. The work he is doing here, to keep the community together, safe and healthy, has helped him a lot he says. He likes being part of the process, it is empowering to know that his voice, concerns, are heard and taken seriously.
The Ugandan people have been very kind. As a way to prevent tension between communities, it is mandated by the government that 50% of all aid go to supporting the refugee settlements and 30% to the host community (the Ugandan people). This is a major factor for the peaceful integration of refugees in Uganda.
It was a privilege for me to meet Jimmy and experience the kindness of the Ugandan people.
I am currently working with the CRS/Uganda Emergency team to develop a strategy to position ourselves for future funding, so that we can continue to provide quality services to South Sudanese refugees and Ugandan host communities. CRS is doing some really good work in agriculture & livelihoods, shelter and sanitation & hygiene. I hope to share some more details on that in the near future.
Thanks for reading!