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Uganda’s past pain prompts compassionate response to South Sudanese refugees

May 1, 2017 • Uganda
Refugees have been flooding from Sudan into South Sudan since the country was created. Since December, violence in South Sudan has caused thousands of refugees to flee into Uganda.
A civil war in their homeland has forced more than 1.2 million people from South Sudan to flee to Uganda. They are in refugee settlements, including two large ones in which Samaritan’s Purse is providing water, latrines, seeds, and farming tools.

Samaritan’s Purse’s employees in Uganda say their nation is warmly welcoming South Sudanese refugees because many Ugandans were refugees themselves once. Samaritan’s Purse is providing water, latrines, seeds, farming tools, and more.

Why is Uganda so warmly welcoming more than 1.2 million refugees from South Sudan – giving them land to grow crops, while Samaritan’s Purse provides water wells, latrines, seeds, and farming tools?

And why is Uganda going to so much effort to integrate the refugees with native Ugandans, rather than treating them outcasts?

Because, says Steven Irumba, manager of Samaritan’s Purse Household Water Projects in Uganda, many of the African nation’s current political leaders were refugees themselves at one time. For example, during the 1970s, repressive president Idi Amin ordered the deaths of as many as 500,000 Ugandans. To survive, hundreds of thousands fled to neighboring nations.

“People in Uganda, even at the top of our government, understand what it means to be a refugee – to live in exile,” said Irumba while touring the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement. “They have sympathy.”

“We have seen how other people are suffering,” added Samaritan’s Purse colleague Moses Agea, who is helping distribute food supplied by the United Nations’ World Food Program to about 43,000 mostly South Sudanese residents at Kiryandongo. “Why wouldn’t we open our hearts and welcome them?”

Agea, a Ugandan, said people around the world who are fearful of welcoming refugees usually have no experience with them: “If you don’t understand the refugee situation, it’s very easy to close the door.”

His experience in caring for refugees at the Kiryandongo Settlement has taught him “they are very industrious individuals. They thrive – often more than the (Ugandan) nationals (living nearby).”

The Ugandan government has never said the South Sudanese refugees can remain in Uganda for as long as they want, Irumba said. But neither has the government indicated it plans to make them leave if the civil war in South Sudan eventually ends.  There has been too many wars and tribal violence in South Sudan for another peace agreement to quickly spark a wave of refugees returning to their homeland.