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.

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