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Tensions running high between South Sudanese refugees and Ugandans

Esther Muwombi
South Sudanese refugees who have fled fighting and escaped to northern Uganda report mistreatment by the locals, revealing underlying tensions between the two groups.
15.10.2015  |  Adjumani, Uganda
South Sudanese students attending Nyumanzi Primary on their way to school, April 15, 2014. (photo: The Niles | Esther Muwombi)
South Sudanese students attending Nyumanzi Primary on their way to school, April 15, 2014. (photo: The Niles | Esther Muwombi)

“Our relatives that sought refugee here during the civil war told us that Ugandans are hospitable people, but what we are experiencing now is nothing like that,” said Machar Peter, a refugee at Boroli refugee camp.

They hit me and kicked me.”

Machar lost his motorbike to a gang of men he said were Ugandans. They held him at gun point and told him they would kill him for being South Sudanese.

“It was around 7:00pm at night as I drove my bike back home from work when they attacked. They kept saying, these Sudanese should pay for what they did to our people, a statement I didn’t understand. Because all I know is that we hosted Ugandans in our country for a long time, and they earned good income working there. They hit me and kicked me and drove off with my motorcycle.”

Machar’s is one of many stories at the fast-expanding Nyumanzi refugee camp. Deer Alieu, a shop attendant described a man being framed and eventually arrested for raping a Ugandan school girl. “About two months later, they called people to go to the police to identify a corpse. The corpse was that man. We don’t know what killed him,” Deer said.

The Nyumanzi police post declined to comment but a Chairman of Nyumanzi, who declined to be identified, said Ugandans and South Sudanese have tense relations that date back to when many Ugandans stayed and worked in South Sudan, after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.

Edyegu Moses, who drives a boda-boda motorbike taxi between Nyumanzi and Adjumani town and once worked in Juba, complained about how he and other Ugandans were abruptly forced to leave the country last year, and many motorbikes were confiscated.

South Sudanese mistreated us so much in their country.”

“The South Sudanese mistreated us so much in their country and anything bad that Ugandans do to them here, I am not surprised. They robbed and even killed some.”

After fleeing violence which has killed tens of thousands in South Sudan, many refugees feel stranded. “We hear we have an ambassador here in Uganda, but he never comes to our rescue. While we were still at Jaipi transit camp, he came there but didn’t even address us. He just spoke to a few officials there and then drove off. I guess its the two governments that have a link as head of states but not for the sake of us the citizens,” said Elijah Machar, a clinician.

Last year, there was another conflict between South Sudanese and Ugandans in Moyo District, northern Uganda where South Sudanese refugees who had fled the 21-year civil war clashed with locals over land and census rights. The refugees say they are Ugandans because they have settled in the country for more than 20 years, and now own property and land.

However, during the recent Uganda census exercise, census officials refused to count them claiming they are not Ugandan’s which sparked off fighting that left several dead, houses burnt and property destroyed.

Besides insecurity, refugees in northern Uganda face ongoing challenges including scarce water, poor quality food, a lack of housing and poor health services.

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