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EU pledges $95m to Uganda for South Sudan refugees

EU and UN refugee chiefs Christos Stylianides and Filippo Grandi visited camps in Northern Uganda today ahead of the major summit Uganda hosts. PHOTO @StylianidesEU

Arua, Uganda | Michael O’Hagan | AFP |  The EU pledged 85 million euros ($95 million) to Uganda on Thursday as UN chief Antonio Guterres urged donors to give 20 times that amount to help the country deal with nearly one million refugees from South Sudan.

Guterres visited a refugee camp in Uganda’s remote north where he met with South Sudanese who fled civil war in their country, a day before a summit in Kampala aimed at raising at least $2 billion to deal with the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

“In a world in which so many people are selfishly closing their doors, closing their borders not allowing refugees to come (Uganda) deserves praise and admiration from the whole of the international community,” he said.

He urged the international community to express solidarity with the refugees by offering financial support for humanitarian aid as well as schools, healthcare and infrastructure to help Uganda “cope with such an enormous challenge”.

European Union aid commissioner Christos Stylianides and UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi also visited the Imvepi settlement earlier in the day, ahead of the summit.

“To help Uganda deal with this unprecedented situation and support the most vulnerable refugees, the European Commission has today announced 85 million euros in development assistance,” said Stylianides.

However, the massive sum still falls far short of what is needed. While the stated goal of the summit is to raise $2 billion for the coming year, organisers say $8 billion is needed to deal with the crisis for the coming four years.

– ‘We need more food’ –

According to the UN refugee agency more than 947,000 South Sudanese refugees are sheltering in Uganda, bringing the total number of refugees in the east African nation to more than 1.2 million.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, achieved independence in 2011.

Civil war broke out in 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his rival and former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup against him.

An August 2015 peace deal was left in tatters when fighting broke out in Juba in July last year, spreading violence across the country.

It was this outbreak of fighting that led to the biggest exodus, with some 743,000 South Sudanese arriving in Uganda since July 2016, about 2,000 a day.

More than 270,000 are housed in Bidibidi settlement, which overtook Kenya’s Dadaab earlier this year as the biggest refugee camp in the world.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been hailed for a progressive refugee policy in which refugees are allowed to work and access public services.

However, the situation on the ground has been overwhelming for locals and aid workers, with not enough food and water to go around.

“We are facing hunger problems. We need more food for the refugees and the Ugandans,” Sene Alex, 28, told Guterres.

– ‘Treating the symptoms’ –

The UN estimates that another 500,000 South Sudanese will arrive in Uganda this year.

The summit will not include discussions on how to end the ongoing fighting, and there is no peace process in sight.

“We are treating the symptoms but the real root cause of this violence should be addressed. That is what is forcing people to run from their land,” said Wadri Sam Nykua, the top government official in Arua, Uganda, welcoming the EU and UN officials to the refugee settlement.

Guterres recalled accompanying refugees back across the border to South Sudan around the time of independence, many filled with hope that their new country would be at peace.

“Unfortunately, the leaders of the country have not deserved the people they have and the people are suffering enormously … It is time for the war to end,” he said.



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