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IRIN - Uganda


UN bid to improve migrant, refugee response flounders as political will evaporates

Tue, 27 Dec 2016 15:17:50 +0000

More than a year after the United Nations embarked on an ambitious project to draw up two international “compacts” to better respond to unprecedented migration and refugee crises, the progress report is less than stellar.   Experts following the negotiations worry that, despite such a large undertaking, the compacts are still too little, too late. Among key concerns are that their non-binding nature weakens the promise of responsibility-sharing (already evidenced by underfunded pilot projects), and that they will merely reinforce the status quo rather than bring about any tangible improvements for forcibly displaced people.   Part of this is due to a dramatically transformed political climate. In September 2016, US President Barack Obama was leading the charge – following a global outpouring of concern over the humanitarian emergency in the Mediterranean Sea – for radical change in the way the world addresses these issues.   “I called this summit because this crisis is one of the most urgent tests of our time,” Obama said at the UN last year. “Just as failure to act in the past – for example, by turning away Jews fleeing Nazi Germany – is a stain on our collective conscience, I believe history will judge us harshly if we do not rise to this moment.”   At last year’s UN General Assembly, all 193 member states adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was the starting point for discussions on two global compacts: one for refugees and another for migrants. Fourteen months later, as the US under President Donald Trump abandons its leadership role on refugees, and after German Chancellor Angela Merkel has paid a heavy price for her pro-refugee policies, the compacts risk becoming little more than talk and, without charismatic champions, rudderless in the face of strong political headwinds.   Indeed, far-right parties have made gains across Europe as the EU and its member states strike deals with Libya and Turkey to ensure desperate migrants cannot reach European shores. Australia continues to hold refugees in offshore prisons. And, in the Middle East, countries that have hosted Syrian refugees for years are starting to force them back home. Even if the compacts do cajole UN member states into recommitting to upholding refugee and migrant rights, the anti-migrant, anti-refugee policies they pursue could still undermine the compacts’ intent.   “I’m not saying there will be no positive outcomes,” explained Jeff Crisp, former policy chief at the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. “But consensus at the level of agreeing to a document is not the same as actually doing practical things to make it a reality.” Mark Garten/UN Photo Imvepi Refugee Settlement in Arua District, Northern Uganda What is the CRRF?   Amidst many still-vague ideas for the compacts, the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, or CRRF, sticks out for its concrete objectives. Outlined in the annex of the New York Declaration, the framework aims to “provide for a more comprehensive, predictable and sustainable response that benefits both refugees and their hosts, rather than responding to refugee displacement through a purely, and often underfunded, humanitarian lens.” Ideally, this will be the modus operandi for all refugee crises going forward.   The CRRF contains four broad, ambitious and noncontroversial objectives: to ease pressure on host countries; to build refugees’ self-reliance; to expand refugee resettlement and other legal pathways to third countries; and to create conditions where refugees can voluntarily return to their home countries.   In refugee-hosting countries, this “whole-of-society” approach should draw on partners not typically involved in humanitarian responses, such as the private sector and development actors like the World Bank. Under the CRRF, refugees are not supposed to languish in camps. Rather, they should be integrated into local labour markets and schools from the get-go.   But many e[...]

From war to want: South Sudanese find less violence but grim conditions in Uganda

Tue, 20 Dec 2016 11:05:29 +0000

For leverage, Helen grips the rungs on the side of the rusting hospital bed with her toes. “Sindika!” encourages Aisha Ayikoriu. “Sindika! Sindika!” In Luganda, the Bantu language widely spoken in Uganda, Sindika means “push”. Built in the early 1990s to serve 10,000 local Ugandans, Ocea Centre Two is now the biggest of four clinics serving Rhino, a settlement of some 85,000 South Sudanese refugees.  As the UN makes repeated statements about ethnic cleansing and budding genocide in South Sudan, Uganda can barely open camps fast enough to accommodate the influx of refugees. An average of 2,500 have been arriving every day since July, with that figure as high as 7,000 earlier this month. A massive settlement for 100,000 has just opened in Moyo district in the tip of the north. With dry season offensives expected to begin any day now, it could be overflowing before mid-January. In its most recent update, on 19 December, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, says 584,573 South Sudanese refugees have arrived in Uganda since the civil war broke out in December 2013. Almost 400,000 of them have come since July, fleeing an upsurge in fighting and indiscriminate bloodletting in the southern Equatoria region.  Related stories: South Sudan refugee influx overwhelms Ugandan reception centres South Sudan: "This fighting will continue to our children" The genocidal logic of South Sudan's "gun class" The lack of resources for the refugees is evident. There isn’t enough water, let alone sanitary pads for women, and schools for children. It may be safer in Uganda, but the conditions here are inhumane. At Ocea Centre Two, there are two beds for women in labour. On the other side of the green fabric that serves as a curtain are five mothers with newborns. They share cots and use cloths to cushion themselves and their little ones on the concrete floor. Mothers fuss over the babies. Though the situation is grim, the scene isn’t sad. The “inpatient” unit is 14 beds in a tent. It is the only clinic at Rhino equipped to do minor surgical procedures. The beds in the tent are always full and often overrun, with patients sharing beds or staying on the floor.  For any major operations, patients must be sent to the nearest hospital, 72 nauseatingly bumpy kilometres to the west, in Arua, the closest main town. There is only one ambulance available. Vincent Debo, a clinical officer, looks embarrassed when he shares these statistics.  Frontline Equatoria The fight that has ruined the world’s newest nation turned three on 15 December. South Sudan itself is just five, having celebrated its independence in July 2011. The conflict is an ethnically tinged power wrangle between the SPLA (government forces made up mostly of President Salva Kiir’s Dinka tribe) and the SPLA-IO (opposition forces – initially mostly Nuer people loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, but now increasingly mixed with members of South Sudan’s 63 other tribes).   Equatoria had remained a bastion of relative calm while war over resources and power infected the rest of the country, but the seat of the conflict has shifted. A failed, internationally-brokered August 2015 peace agreement positioned IO troops alongside the SPLA in these states, priming the place for a bloodbath. In July, fighting broke out in the capital Juba, located in the south, in the middle of the Equatoria region. A chase down country for the ousted Machar was followed by massacres that have yet to stop.  South Sudan refugee flows to Uganda since July 2016 Refugees from Equatoria say they left because staying at home was untenable. If it weren’t for the gunshots every night, the bodies in the streets, the families burned alive in their homes, and the women gang raped by the side of the road, they would have stayed.  “Fear made me come here,” Peter Dada, originally from Laniya in central Equatoria, tells IRIN at Rhino settlement. “There is killing, continuously. No compromise.” Dada says if the government s[...]