There are close to a million refugees in the Great Lakes region. Another 1.61 million living in camps in South Sudan. But there is no money.
And when the United Nations High Commission for Refugees appealed for aid, specifically $608.8 million to take care of 2.54 million people displaced by the conflict in South Sudan, it received just $122 million — about 20 per cent of its needs.
UNHCR has been here before. An appeal of $313.9 million to take care of Burundian refugees in 2016 was sent out, but only 15 per cent has been provided.
Dwindling funding and an ever increasing number of refugees are pushing countries like Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia into borrowing.
While Tanzania is discussing a loan agreement with the World Bank for a project supporting long term refugees to whom it recently granted citizenship, Zambia has already taken up such a loan and provided residence, land access rights and social economic integration to long-term refugees.
Uganda is going a step further: It is seeking a $50 million loan and has scheduled a meeting with donors to appeal for funding while asking UNHCR to offer necessities like food in refugees’ countries of origin.
“We have asked UNCHR to provide food to these people while they are still in South Sudan, so that they have no reason to leave their homes,” said Musa Echweru, Uganda’s State Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Relief.
Renewed clashes in South Sudan’s Central and Western Equatoria, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile and Unity States have fuelled the exodus and over 200,000 people into Uganda and Sudan. As a result the two countries are straining to provide food and shelter.
For Uganda, which received close to 50 per cent of the new arrivals, the lack of funds has meant keeping refugees in congested transit centres with overstretched facilities.
The country opened a new settlement in the Yumbe district, but without funds for infrastructure, refugees cannot be moved. Development of another settlement in Maaji III, in Adjumani district, has been put on hold.
Without places to settle, refugees are being kept in transit and reception centres. Some of the reception centres currently accommodate five times their capacity, as UNHCR has failed to relocate 45,000 South Sudanese refugees looking for asylum in Uganda.
UNHCR warns that these people are living too close to each other and such proximity could lead to disease outbreaks.
READ: UNHCR faces funding shortage as more flee South Sudan
This is not just a problem for Uganda. It has spread across the Great Lakes region to affect Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia.
While the latest crisis involves South Sudan refugees, similar challenges have been experienced with other refugees fleeing DRC and Burundi.