This newspaper yesterday carried a story quoting Kiryadongo District Woman MP Hellen Kahunde raising the red flag over the strain on social services caused by the influx of South Sudanese refugees.
There is a lull in fighting in South Sudan but apprehension holds sway, driving thousands into exile. Nature has placed Uganda, which has one of the most progressive refugee policies in the world, at the frontline of receiving South Sudanese desperate for safety.
Some come in sick, requiring treatment sometimes for a malady that Uganda has eliminated through vaccination; others smuggle in arms and ammunitions, posing local security risk; and, most are physically or psychologically scarred from the bouts of war since the 1950s.
Our citizens accord legendary hospitality; offer land, share scarce safe water, medical and other services in a world where wealthier nations are either slamming the door in the face of asylum seekers or capping their numbers.
Whereas we welcome the altruism and largesse of our people, the government and other actors such as the UN refugee agency must be alive to the fact that the struggle over scarce resources could itself become a trigger for insecurity.
Ms Kahunde was quoted to have said: “The medicine is not enough and the health personnel are not enough. We want the respective ministries to intervene and rescue the situation.”
The lawmaker’s plea captures the feelings of overstretched host communities. By the last week of July, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 4,000 South Sudanese were fleeing into Uganda each day, overwhelming its border collection/screening points, transit and reception centres.
In Adjumani District, improper hygiene practices and poor sanitation has resulted in an outbreak of cholera in Pagirinya refugee settlement in Dzaipi Sub-county, which could spread to host communities.
Uganda government allocates resources based on resident population, which disadvantages border and refugee-hosting communities sharing services with nationals of neighbouring countries. For instance, health planners in Arua, Busia, Koboko and other frontier towns perennially report faster stock-out of medicines, including anti-retroviral drugs, because they cannot turn away neighbours, who are not budgeted for, when they show up for treatment.
We demand that the government promptly allocates additional resources to refugee-host districts, instead of leaving UNHCR and other partners to do the heavy lifting, so that both refugees and natives live in harmony and dignity. Otherwise, we risk sleep-walking to an avoidable schism.
The issue: Refugees
Our view: We demand that the government promptly allocates additional resources to refugee-host districts, instead of leaving UNHCR and other partners to do the heavy lifting...