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Uganda’s Compassion Under Threat: A Look at Africa’s Largest Refugee Camp

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Kampala, Uganda-In the heart of Uganda, lies a beacon of hope for millions, the largest refugee camp in Africa. This nation, smaller and less wealthy than many of its global counterparts, has opened its doors to 1.6 million displaced souls, offering refuge to more people, as a percentage of its population, than the entire European Union. However, this remarkable act of humanity faces a dire threat due to financial cuts, jeopardizing Uganda’s open-door model.

A Sanctuary Amidst Turmoil

Most refugees in Uganda hail from the neighboring countries of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, escaping the clutches of violence and conflict. A staggering 81% of these refugees are women and children, many of whom have witnessed their villages being ravaged and their loved ones lost to the brutality of war.

The Nakivale settlement in Southwest Uganda, home to 185,000 individuals, exemplifies the country’s commitment to providing sanctuary. Here, new arrivals are a weekly occurrence, each carrying stories of survival and loss. One displaced boy shared his heart-wrenching tale, saying, “I was outside, and when I was back home, my family had left. And so I also left. I haven’t seen them.”

Uganda’s Unique Approach to Refugee Support

Uganda’s policy towards refugees is notably generous. The government offers immediate protection to those fleeing war-torn regions, a policy explained by Claire Birungi Agaba from the Norwegian Refugee Council. “When it comes to Congolese, to Sudanese and South Sudanese, they are able to get prima facie status… they are given (refugee) status and they don’t go through the entire process of registration,” she notes.

Refugees are entitled to a small plot of land for cultivation, along with cash or food support. Unaccompanied minors find new homes with foster families among other refugees. This integration extends to the use of schools and hospitals, financed by international aid, benefiting both refugees and the local community.

Facing the Challenges

Despite the support, life in settlements like Nakivale is fraught with challenges. Poverty, school dropouts, and inadequate food supplies are prevalent. The monthly ration of 3kg of rice and half a kg of beans per person is hardly enough, leading to a stunting rate of 40% and an acute malnutrition rate of 10-15% among children under five. Dr. Justin Okello of Nakivale Health Center III underscores the grim reality, “such children are both susceptible to getting infections and also to dying from such infections.”

A Plea for Sustained Support

As the civil war in Sudan adds to the region’s crises, global humanitarian assistance to Uganda has dwindled. Bruno Rotival, Head of EU Humanitarian Aid in Uganda, revealed that the yearly expenditure per refugee has halved from $170 in 2018 to just $85. While the EU maintains its annual contribution of around 30 million euros, the overall funding deficit impacts operations severely.

Uganda now stands at a crossroads, calling on international partners for increased funding to sustain its unique approach to refugee assistance. With 225,000 new arrivals in the last two years and a high birth rate within the settlements, the future of Uganda’s open-door policy hangs in the balance.

In a world often divided by borders and national interests, Uganda’s unwavering commitment to offering sanctuary to those in need is a testament to humanity’s potential for compassion and solidarity. As financial strains threaten this model, the international community’s response will not only determine the fate of millions seeking refuge but also reflect our collective values and humanity

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