In Uganda, a small plot of land awaits at the end of the long flightUganda has welcomed more than 800,000 refugees from South Sudan. Upon arrival they are allocated a small plot of land. Here, they can build a future for themselves. The Danish Refugee Council assists the people who have sought refuge in Uganda.
They are almost there. The place where they are safe and where they can start creating a new future for themselves. Most are tired but also excited - wondering what the place will look like. That is actually the main topic of the conversations here at the Danish Refugee Council’s reception center in Rhino camp in northwestern Uganda. Here, more than 700 South Sudanese refugees are waiting to leave for the plots of land assigned to them by the Ugandan authorities.
"Is it a nice place?" one woman nervously asks one of a local staff member of the Danish Refugee Council. She assures her that the place is really nice:
"There is a small river nearby. It is one of the best places in the whole camp," she answers.
The woman nods and smiles. The trip here has been long and tough. But now the war and famine in South Sudan are part of the past and it’s time to focus on the future here in Uganda.
"I had come here to find peace and in order for my children to go to school," says 35-year-old Martha Bol, who brought her five children with her to Uganda:
"I don’t know where my husband is. There was an attack on our village, many were killed and everyone fled in different directions. We were separated from each other, and I haven’t seen him since."
It took her and her children two months to reach the Ugandan border. Along the way they survived on what they could find in the wild. Fruits, roots and leaves. Now, Martha is happy to be safe but also exhausted - the journey was tough and the family has to flee without taking any of their belongings with them.
"The attack took place at night. We heard shots and around us people were running in all directions. There were dead people lying on the ground. Some were screaming and crying because they didn’t know where their children were. I grabbed the hands of my children and started running - and then we just carried on," she says.
Arriving to Uganda
Martha is grateful for all the help she is now getting in order to start a new life. When she and her family arrived to Uganda, they were welcomed by representatives of the Ugandan authorities and the Danish Refugee Council. At the border the family got a bit to eat and was examined to see whether anyone needed emergency care. They were then brought to a welcoming center near the border, where they were able to rest and received a prober meal.
Next, the family headed to a larger reception center operated by the Danish Refugee Council in Rhino camp. Currently, the center accommodates around 700 newly arrived refugees who are registered once more and provided with a place to stay for a few days while all the logistics are taken care of.
At the center, newcomers have the opportunity to be thoroughly examined by a doctor and the Danish Refugee Council's employees provide psychosocial help to those who need it. Meals are served thrice a day and everyone receives soap and hygiene products, so they can take a bath.
After spending a few days at the gathering point busses arrive, which will take Martha and her children as well as several other refugee families to their new homes.
Everyone gathers their few possessions. Most of the luggage consists of mattresses, mats and cooking utensils - things that the families have received during their stay in the reception center. Then trucks drive them around 15 kilometers from the center to the areas of the camp, where they have been assigned land.
Martha hopes that she and her children will finally find peace and have the opportunity to build a future. She is grateful about the way Uganda has welcomed refugees as she has little hope that she will be able to return home to South Sudan anytime soon.
"The war just carries on and on - how can I go back to that when I have finally found a peaceful place where my kids can grow up?”
"The war goes on and on"
Among the other people waiting for the bus is 30-year-old Roda Aluel. She is here with her five children and her mother. Roda’s story is very similar to Martha’s. During an attack on their village, she lost contact with her husband in the confusion. She does not know if he is alive or dead.
"We don’t know who was behind the attack because it happened at night. Everything was dark. They came and started killing people and then we flee. This happens over and over again," says Roda.
Sitting here in Rhino camp waiting for the bus, she is hopeful and curious to see what opportunities await her and her family. Unlike many other countries, refugees in Uganda are able to work and move around freely. Before fleeing from South Sudan, Roda had a small stall at the local market where she sold tea and coffee:
"If I have the opportunity, I would like to open a similar small shop or stall again. That way I can support us all and ensure that my children get an education."
Returning home is not a part of her plans for the future.
"The war goes on and on. I don’t want to expose my children to that," she says.
Then the buses arrive and together with their families Roda and Martha get in line to board it. At the end of the bus ride, a plot of land awaits as well as a new future.
Africa's largest refugee crisis
With only a few years of exceptions, South Sudan has been plagued by war for decades. The country was granted independence from Sudan in 2011 thereby becoming the world's youngest nation. But only two years later, the country plunged into a brutal civil war, which is estimated to have cost more than 300,000 people their lives so far. At the same time more than two million have become internally displaced inside South Sudan and more than 1.5 million have fled to neighboring countries - primarily Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. Uganda alone has welcomed around 700,000 South Sudanese refugees.
During the summer of 2016, violent conflict erupted once again forcing people to flee. According to the UN, up to two thousand refugees arrive to Uganda every day. The Danish Refugee Council works in South Sudan and neighboring countries including Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia and provides assistance to the people who are seeking refuge outside the country.
Rhino camp - no ordinary refugee camp
Rhino camp in Uganda is not like most refugee camps. There are no rows of tents crammed into a tight space. Instead it covers a wider area, and refugees live in villages that are scattered throughout the area. The neighboring villages are inhabited by native Ugandans who have lived there for generations. Rhino camp is divided into clusters of homesteads called villages including Ocea, a replica of the indigenous pattern of settlement. The villages are grouped according to proximity to constitute zones. Refugees in Rhino camp settlement and all other refugee settlements in West Nile and Uganda as a whole have access to plots of land for shelter and farming.