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Uganda overwhelmed as tens of thousands flee violence in South Sudan

15 Nov 2016

“I came to Uganda because of the violence in South Sudan. My next door neighbours were dragged from their home by men, kidnapped and chopped in to pieces. Other families were taken and I was worried I would be next.” Rose is from the Greater Equatoria region in South Sudan, who arrived in Uganda with her five children around a month ago. 

Rose is one of more than 172,000 people who have arrived in Northern Uganda in the last three months all fleeing similarly traumatic experiences, or the threat of them, in South Sudan. The Ugandan government put aside land near the town of Yumbe to host the new refugees, but these ‘zones’, together known as Bidi Bidi Refugee Camp, have been quickly filled. The Government is opening up more land and creating new ‘zones’, but those processing new arrivals and running services for refugees are overwhelmed. Médecins Sans Frontières has responded by opening an outpatient and mobile clinic in the camp. We have built a number of toilets across the site increased the amount of water distributed in the camp by trucking in 66,000 litres of water a day and building water pumps. 

“Rampant killing” in South Sudan

On the 8th July violence broke out in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. Around a month later the situation in the city was calm although still tense, but the conflict sparked outbreaks of violence in surrounding counties. Patients in Médecins Sans Frontières’ outpatient clinic in Bidi Bidi report horrifying accounts of violence as recently as two or three weeks ago. "One day me and my neighbour sneaked back to the village to try and get food. Armed men spotted my neighbour. They attacked and raped her. She shouted and made a lot of noise which gave me time to know what was happening and I lay on the ground and crawled back to the bush”

"The Government is opening up more land and creating new ‘zones’, but those processing new arrivals and running services for refugees are overwhelmed"

Other people say they’ve seen family members, neighbours or friends shot in front of them whilst others’ report that their husbands disappeared from work, likely abducted by armed men. Many talk about not having time to collect their belongings or even wait for family members to return home before fleeing, setting off on foot towards the safety of Uganda. Some walked for up to nine days, hiding from armed men in the bush on the way.

An overwhelmed Uganda

Those that do survive the perilous journey and arrive in the safety of Uganda are met by buses, driven to reception centres where they’re registered, given a plot of land, blankets, a mosquito net, tools to build a house, kitchen utensils, food rations and jerry cans for collecting water. “The conditions in the camp at first were appalling. It was really difficult seeing people suffer. They’d left their life behind in South Sudan and on top of that they were getting ill from diseases like cholera.” says Enosh, a nurse and Supervisor of the Médecins Sans Frontières outpatient clinic in Bidi Bidi refugee camp. The poor conditions and lack of access to clean drinking water have contributed to the spread of illnesses like malaria, respiratory tract infections, skin infections diarrhoea and dysentery.

“Every day around 60% of patients we see have malaria. There are many mosquitos. People are given a plot of land in the bush and often have nowhere to hang a mosquito net. We can treat people with malaria at the clinic but we’re also looking at whether we can spray areas to destroy mosquito’s breeding grounds” says Enosh. The outpatient clinic sees between 70 and 200 people every day.