Friday, 16 May 2014



Screen shot of Google image result, search term "refugee camp"

Screen shot of Google image result, search term "refugee camp uganda"

There are two things that are evident from the above screen shots - 1) Google image search gives you pictures that are fairly in line with reality, and 2) refugees living in Uganda tend to be better off than refugees in other countries.

Needless to say, when speaking about quality of life in relation to situations caused by forced migration everything is somewhat relative. The members of the refugee community in Arua town that I have come in contact with over the past few days haven't exactly been delighted with their situation - perhaps especially as they are now back in the settlements where they lived prior to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which put an end to the civil war between what is now South Sudan and Sudan - but nevertheless they live in conditions that plenty of Ugandan nationals do. They do not live in tents provided by UNHCR and their freedom of movement is not legally restricted by their host government. Rather do they live in mud huts - often not that different from how they lived in South Sudan - and they have legal access to land on which they can farm. In fact they are according to the Ugandan constitution legally entitled to a plot of land in order to enable self subsistence farming. Obviously the fact that few South Sudanese are traditional farmers tend to complicate the livelihoods of the refugees that have recently arrived from South Sudan but luckily the international community has offered a hand or two in assisting the initial farming. Shame just that the rains aren't coming... Anyway - point being that had it not been for the fact that I knew that I was in a refugee settlement yesterday I would never have known. It looked just like any of the plenty Ugandan villages one crosses by when going for a drive out on the country side.

Interestingly, many of the members of the refugee community that I spoke to said that they didn't want to go back to South Sudan. Apart from feeling a lot safer in Uganda, their children are also legally entitled to primary education (although they had had some problems with paying the examination fees, which are 1500 Ugandan shillings per child - a full £0.30) and the local schools have as of yet not turned away any children from the refugee community, even though there has been an influx of about 15000 people to Arua since the crisis started in South Sudan mid-december last year. But even though the refugees deemed their life to be somewhat better in one of Uganda's refugee settlements than in South Sudan, there are obviously still problems that they face in their daily life. Access to soap, for instance. And the inability to independently uphold one's human dignity. Although the international community has excelled in providing nutrition (although it wasn't great when WFP had to halve their food rations for a few months due to inadequate funding), WASH services and non-food items the question of human dignity - which of course is one that is difficult to define - is somewhat tough to tackle. Whilst in theory and legally having access to society, these people have no access to the capitalist society. They are falling behind. Somewhat heartbreakingly this situation is probably worse for the lower middle class of South Sudan which had some financial means in their native country and now have lost whatever capital power they had. The line between humanitarian and developmental work becomes somewhat blurry when the worst storm has passed. That said food insecurity is likely to be looming over the now food secure refugees once there is a new influx of South Sudanese to Arua.

All of this made me think about what me and my countrymen would do if the Russians decided to invade (it's something we've always spoken about, a sort of legacy from the Cold War era - "The Russians are coming!"). Coming from a knowledge economy through and through I don't have any particular skills that would be useful if I was to be settled out in the countryside. Obviously the South Sudanese economy is far from a knowledge one, but nevertheless most of the South Sudanese have about as many farming skills as me and my mates. None.

The overall objective of Sweden's humanitarian aid is "to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity for the benefit of people in need". I do believe that Sweden and the international community in general save lives and alleviate suffering for the benefit of people in need, but the question of maintaining human dignity is far more complicated than either and both of the above mentioned issues.

Puppies in Rhino refugee settlement.
The kids had named them Baby dog and Toby(!). No joke.

Monday, 12 May 2014


I'm ill and it's not great. It's never fun being a bit under the weather, but it's even less fun when you're a long way from home and the only "home" available to you is a not very homely guest house which, in spite of being thoroughly cleaned on a daily basis by our thorough maid, never seems to get clean. I have started missing home a lot more over the past month, saying that even though I don't really know where home is. Home has now become synonymous with Europe, Europe being Sweden and London. I miss my family a lot. And I miss feeling clean which seems impossible here. I also miss trivial luxury, the small things that feel anything but luxurious when living in Europe. H&M for instance, or going to new restaurants or visiting museums. Also I am in dire need of a new pair of shoes, which is why I bought two pairs in Kampala. Both of which broke within less than two weeks. Obviously all of these things are somewhat different when working in the village as no one would expect you to look clean/decent/representative. When I first arrived in Kampala I did not understand why international employees had perks such as hardship trips back to their native country, but I totally get it now. A break is needed in order to fully appreciate the experience, I think. And a break is also needed to buy high quality shoes (and low quality clothing from H&M). I am starting to very much look forward to my return to Europe (only three months and a bit to go!) whilst at the same time knowing that it will most likely be two years before I am back on the African continent in a professional context. And as such I should enjoy it while it lasts. Also there really is a lot of exciting things happening before moving back to London.

I'm going out in the field on Wednesday with work, for instance, for the first time in six months. This will also be the first time that I go out in the field with one of our partners on my own and as the only Embassy representative. Needless to say it's all very exciting. I will visit some of the refugee settlements in Arua (Arua is one of the main settlement areas for the refugees coming from South Sudan, the amount of which has now exceeded 100 000 just in Uganda) before travelling on to Pader to visit a school primarily established for former child soldiers that were forcibly recruited by the LRA. Never having been to a refugee settlement before I am not quite sure what to expect. The case of Uganda and its refugee policies is, however, very exciting (hence me doing my dissertation on it). Rather than setting up refugee camps for the hundreds of thousands of refugees to whom the Ugandan state is now host, Uganda's refugee policies mean that refugees live in settlements, enabling a legal entitlement to the freedom of movement for the refugees (which is in stark contrast to the Kenyan government's recent crackdown on refugees). Also the refugees in Uganda can choose to not live in the refugee settlements, which one might think should be obvious but instead this has been known to be a very controversial issue in host countries - and communities - across the world. Humanitarian issues and the policies around them might very well be the most interesting and complicated subject I have come across in my studies and, indeed, in my professional life (although that might be because I didn't study and/or work with quantum physics). At some point in the future I am hoping to get to work with only or at least primarily humanitarian questions. On the ground, or at HQs with close proximity to the nearest H&M...