Single mother recounts tales of war, escape to world leaders

Ms Joyce Napesa, a refugee from South Sudan breaks down as she was narrating her story to the UN delegates who visited Antonio Guterres Community Centre in Kabuusu, Kampala yesterday. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

KAMPALA- One in every four residents of Kisenyi, a Kampala city suburb, is a refugee, most of them from South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi and, Rwanda.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says these refugees do not live in camps, but eke out a living in the city suburbs with deplorable conditions.

Among those most vulnerable is a single mother of 11 children, Ms Joyce Napesa, who crossed into Uganda late last year when the South Sudan war broke out, and is growing increasingly desperate with each nightfall and daybreak in Kampala and its suburbs.
Ms Napesa and her 11 children crossed the border into Uganda and settled at Stella in Najjanankumbi where she now rents a two-bedroomed house.
Stella and Kisenyi are now homes to some 4,000 refugees and people uprooted from their homes due to war.

Ms Napesa says she and her children are still traumatised by the bloodshed they witnessed at home in South Sudan.
And yesterday, a global delegation led by head of the UN’s refugee summit, Mr Rachid Beladhane, was in person to listen to her sad tales of war, flight and desperation.
Also in attendance at Antonio Guterres Community Centre, the meeting place for all refugees around Kampala City, were delegates from Burundi, Rwanda, Canada, USA, the United Arab Emirate, South Sudan, and the South Korean ambassador to Uganda.
“Soldiers stormed our village, in Yei. “Tu, Tu, Tu, Tu……” she imitates the sound of rapid gunfire. “They rounded up the men and killed many of them. My husband was taken; I don’t know whether he is alive or not. My children incessantly dream about this incident and they cry in the night as they remember the gunfire and dead bodies. They still tremble, I still tremble,” she says.
Ms Napesa says some people lost children or abandoned them behind in the stampede as they fled from the war.

She told the visiting delegates that although they feel safer in Uganda, they still lack some basic necessities, including shelter, food and clothing.
Ms Napesa said as a refugee, they trek long distances to access health services as their children also trudge long distances to access education.

“Life is very difficult for us. We don’t have enough food. When we were at home, we used to eat three times a day. Now it’s very difficult. Children are in school, but they can’t concentrate because sometimes they have some food, sometimes they don’t. We don’t even have sufficient drinking water,” Ms Napesa said before breaking down into tears.
Despite their distress, the refugees still mustered some resilience and warmth as they sang and danced for the delegates. Women in colourful clothes huddled to discuss their unnumbered problems with the delegates who are in Uganda for the Refugee Solidarity Summit that opens today in Kampala.
Ms Napesa, just like her counterparts, receives a small sum of money from the UN World Food Programme to buy food, but rent has become a major problem.
“The landlord keeps raising it, and he is constantly threatening us,” she says.

Ms Napesa speaks openly about the difficulties of being a refugee in Uganda, saying she feels very lonely as a single mother of 11 children and struggles to provide for them.
Ms Beti Kamya, the Minister for Kampala Capital City Authority, who accompanied the delegates, urged the international community to support Uganda to cater for refugees such as Ms Napesa who has many children and cannot afford to meet their many needs.
Mr Beladhane, an Algerian delegate who led delegates to the Antonio Guteress camp in Kisenyi, said they are touched by the hospitality Uganda has accorded the refugees and would ensure funding is sought to engage the refugees in skills training for self-help.