Nearly 1 Million South Sudanese Refugees In Uganda
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A sobering milestone is expected soon in Uganda. The United Nations will announce that 1 million refugees have fled from war and famine in South Sudan to come into Uganda. Noah Gottschalk is senior manager and policy adviser for Oxfam America. He joins us in our studios. Mr. Gottschalk, thanks for being with us.
NOAH GOTTSCHALK: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: And you recently returned from Uganda. Give us some idea of what you saw.
GOTTSCHALK: First was a story of tremendous heartbreak, tremendous disappointment of people who had, in many cases, been displaced for many years during the country's long civil war, who had returned home to South Sudan only to find a few years later that they were being displaced again. That feeling of being uprooted when they had expected to be settled once and for all back home was really palpable and really so tragic and heartbreaking to see.
But at the same time, I also saw a story of incredible resilience and strength, people who after having walked in many cases for days or weeks to arrive in Uganda were setting about constructing their own homes, beginning to plant the small fields that are allocated around their homes. It's just, I think, an incredible testament to the resilience of the South Sudanese people.
SIMON: When we think of refugee crises, of course, we often envision refugee camps, but tell us about the plots of land that refugees receive in Uganda.
GOTTSCHALK: Well, unlike a lot of the refugee camps around the world, where where my organization, Oxfam, works, people in Uganda and the refugee settlement model they have are actually spread out in agricultural settlements, where they are granted in the case of Uganda plots of land 30 by 30 meters or 50 by 50 meters. And that's so they can plant some of the crops that they are accustomed to from home, things like corn, beans.
Really, the staples that they need to supplement the rations they get from the World Food Program. But unfortunately because people are coming at different times, they are not always able to catch that right planting season. So a lot of people are really finding themselves without enough food, especially because its also not enough assistance coming through the United Nations.
SIMON: Is this situation just overshadowed by other refugee and humanitarian crises in the world?
GOTTSCHALK: I think so. I think its a challenge that, you know, Uganda is the third largest refugee-hosting country in the world now, but I think most people dont realize that. When we think about refugees, we often think about the Syria crisis, which is the world's largest. We think about people who are crossing the Mediterranean. But we're not thinking about the now almost a million people who've crossed this land border into Uganda but have also fled from South Sudan into Kenya and Ethiopia and even into Sudan.
We're also in a situation where the administration has sent very limited aid budgets to Congress. And fortunately because the commitment that Congress continues to show, they've actually rejected those steep cuts to humanitarian aid and provided strong funding - robust funding for humanitarian assistance. But we need to see that funding really get out of the bank accounts in D.C. and get out to the ground, where it's needed.
SIMON: Has Uganda been been so welcoming? The international community has thought there's relatively little reason to get involved.
GOTTSCHALK: I think there's a possibility that the understanding of the settlement system is better than the camp system has made it appear that people are relatively well off. And, in fact, if you go through some of the settlements in Uganda, as I just did, you know, you can see green, lush settlements with people growing around their homes. But what's underneath that surface is a huge host of challenges that people are facing.
There is a rising problem of early marriage in the settlements. As people are finding that they have no other options to provide for themselves or their families, then to marry off their daughters for the bride price that they receive. When those girls get married, they're not in school anymore. And that really deprives South Sudan of an entire generation of young people.
SIMON: Please tell us, as you see it, what two or three things need to be done first.
GOTTSCHALK: The first thing that needs to happen is that this response needs to be funded. It needs to be funded with the right amount of money in terms of quantity, but also the quality has to change. There is - absolutely too much of the funding that's going into the crisis is short-term funding. So Oxfam is working heavily in the area of water. And we're doing a lot of emergency water supply. That's things like water trucking.
But what really needs to happen is investment in longer-term infrastructure, in roads but particularly in water networks. Much longer term what needs to happen but really starting now is there needs to be concerted pressure on the parties in South Sudan to bring an end to the conflict.
SIMON: Noah Gottschalk is senior humanitarian policy adviser for Oxfam America. Thanks so much for being with us.
GOTTSCHALK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.