South Sudanese refugees weigh tough options

Wednesday February 20 2019

South Sudanese refugees

South Sudanese refugees perform a dance when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees visited the Pagirinya refugee settlement in Adjumani, Uganda, on August 29, 2016. PHOTO | AFP 

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It was a Thursday afternoon like any other; 25-year-old Missmillian Kiden was at home in Kerepi in Eastern Equatorial, South Sudan together with two siblings and her grandmother when their village was attacked in early September 2016.

Her father and mother were in the fields two kilometres away by the time villagers decided to make a run for it across the Ugandan border.
It was the last time Kiden heard from her parents.

Now living with her siblings and ageing grandmother in Pagirinya refugee settlement in Adjumani, northern Uganda, Ms Kiden has to shoulder the responsibility for their welfare.

“Someone told me that our parents managed to escape too and that they are in Arua. I am happy about that and I know they know we are also still alive. It is just that we cannot meet because we have no means. Arua is just too far,” Ms Kiden said.

Her dream of becoming an accountant was shattered when at the outbreak of the war, she was forced to drop out of Senior Two.

With three young siblings and an elderly grandmother, she has to bear the burden of fending for them amid dwindling food rations from the World Food Programme.


Technical training

Five months ago she took up an offer of technical training being offered at the Uganda government-run Amelo Technical Institute and specialised in hair dressing. This she hopes will help her earn a living and provide better care for those she is now parenting.

The training, which involved 200 students this year, is funded by the Belgium development agency, Enabel, under its skills development programme.

Of these, 140 were refugees and 60 students were from the host community.

Enabel’s skills development fund manager, Freda Bella Anek, said that the training is part of a $2.9 million programme for northern Uganda.

Clad in a black graduation gown, Ms Kiden smiles all the way through the interview as she was one of the successful students awarded certificates.

She expects to get start-up capital from the trainers and with it, she plans to open a salon not anywhere but Uganda.

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Anthony Langok came to Uganda with his family in 2016. Son of a business man, Mr Langok and his family are well-off and do not have to live in a refugee camp. They have a decent home in Kirinya, Bweyogerere.

Mr Langok says that for him, his two brothers and two cousins, Uganda “is home now”.

They have settled in well and since they have enrolled in school already, they are in no hurry to return home.

Mr Langok who is currently in Senior Five wants to become a lawyer in future, an education he intends to acquire from Uganda and maybe later practice back home.

“When I finish school, I will have to go back home and help my people one day, but I am in no rush,” Mr Langok added.

He said that since he and his family settled in Uganda, they have made friends, his father engaged other business partners and they feel safer. Until the uncertainty back home ends, there is no going back.

Some returnees

Joseph Amule, a Refugees Welfare Chairperson of Bidi Bidi Camp Zone Three said he has received reports of handfuls of refugees making their way back to South Sudan even when they know it is still risky.

“It is the conditions forcing them to do so. There is little food here and nothing to do. Some believe that if they go back to their land in South Sudan, their lives will at least be better than they are here in the camp,” Mr Amule said.

Moses Moro, 30, says he is tired of life at Imvepi refugee settlement and wants to go back to his Morobo County home in South Sudan.

Formerly a nursery schoolteacher, Mr Moro, a father of four, has taken up beekeeping.

“Life in the camp is difficult. We get food, yes, but it is too little and there is no money to buy clothes for our children. We can eat the food sparingly and when it is finished, we borrow from neighbours and pay back when another ration is served,” Mr Moro says.

His beekeeping and hive-making skills, he says will help him fend for his family, not in Uganda but back home.

“These skills will help me feed my family when we return home. I have enough land there. I can grow enough food and not beg from neighbours. I can sleep in my house without worrying about a leaking roof. I want to go back,” Mr Moro says, his face turning from sadness to determination.