HUFFINGTON POST
11/17/2016 04:01 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2016

South Sudanese Refugees Are Flowing Into Uganda At An Unprecedented Rate

Thousands of people are crossing the border every day to escape violent conflict.
Natalia Jidovanu

Uganda is desperately struggling to accommodate an influx of over 2,900 South Sudanese refugees per day. The landlocked nation now hosts more than half a million people who have fled the bloody power battle north of the border.

The recent mass exodus from South Sudan was spurred by renewed violence in the 5-year-old nation. Civil war engulfed the country amid fierce political tensions in late 2013, and the collapse of a subsequent peace deal in July of this year caused the massive surge of people fleeing to Uganda ― more than 300,000 in the past four months, according to data from the United Nation’s refugee agency, UNHCR. In September, the total number of South Sudanese refugees surpassed 1 million.

“The fighting has shattered hopes for a real breakthrough and triggered new waves of displacement and suffering,” UNHCR spokesperson Leo Dobbs said. The vast majority of refugees are women and children, he added, and the conflict has internally displaced an additional 1.61 million people.

The humanitarian agency reports that many refugees have been attacked and sexually assaulted upon arrival in Uganda. Armed groups have blocked main roads, forcing refugees to walk through the bush without food or water for days on end.

Uganda is still rebuilding after a deadly civil war and decadeslong insurgency that has displaced millions of people. The Lord’s Resistance Army, a cult-like rebel group led by Joseph Kony, has carried out large-scale human rights abuses in northern Uganda, including mass murder, abduction and child slavery.

In August, Uganda opened the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in an attempt to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of newcomers from South Sudan. It is already one of the largest refugee centers in the world, hosting more than 221,000 people.

Organizations like UNHCR and Medical Teams International are currently working to support the growing refugee population and consequent resource shortage in Uganda, where funding and support are urgently needed. Photojournalist Natalia Jidovanu coordinated with MTI to document the crisis and response. She spoke with a number of resettled refugees who described their harrowing journeys across the border, and the terrors they escaped back home.

“People talk about indiscriminate attacks and killings of men, and sexual violence being perpetrated against women and young girls,” Jidovanu told The WorldPost, noting she was surprised by refugees’ willingness to share their personal stories with her. “I felt that people have a very strong need to talk about what is happening right now in South Sudan, about the violence and especially the fear.”

Take a look at Jidovanu’s poignant photographs and observations from her time in Uganda.

  • Michael T., 42, and his three children wait to be relocated from the Ocea Reception Centre to the Bidi Bidi refugee settlemen
    Natalia Jidovanu
    Michael T., 42, and his three children wait to be relocated from the Ocea Reception Centre to the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement. "I was in Juba with my family on July 7. At around 10 a.m., we heard gunshots. People got confused. Everyone started running around, looking for shelter. My wife and oldest son were caught in the middle of gunfire. I lost them. My wife and my son." Location: Ocea Reception Centre, Nov. 4, 2016.
  • "We escaped. But we are not in peace. We think of the lives of those left behind. We think of family and friends who cannot l
    Natalia Jidovanu
    "We escaped. But we are not in peace. We think of the lives of those left behind. We think of family and friends who cannot leave the villages." Joy M. is 28 years old. She came alone with her daughter across the border. Her husband is still stranded in Yei. "In July, I had to bring my daughter to my sister who is married in Uganda, so that my daughter can stay in safety. In August, I had to run, too." Joy describes being stopped by Dinka soldiers along the journey to the border, as she was traveling in a car with other people. "The Dinka men stopped the car and asked us to get out. They would not allow us to leave. We had to abandon the car and hide on the bush." Joy made the rest of the journey on foot. "My husband is still in Yei. He can't move anywhere. I don't know when I will see him again. We are tired of this war. I think of my daughter. What future she will have in our country?" Location: Ocea Reception Centre, Nov. 4, 2016.
  • According to UNHCR, the portion of women and children among the new arrivals continues to be more than 90 percent. The majori
    Natalia Jidovanu
    According to UNHCR, the portion of women and children among the new arrivals continues to be more than 90 percent. The majority are from Eastern Equatoria, with smaller numbers from Juba. Location: Nyumazi Refugee Settlement, Oct. 28, 2016.
  • Newly arrived women and children refugees boarding a UNHCR bus at Elegu Collection Point, near the Nimule border -- one of th
    Natalia Jidovanu
    Newly arrived women and children refugees boarding a UNHCR bus at Elegu Collection Point, near the Nimule border -- one of the major entry points into South Sudan. From border entry points, the new arrivals are transported to established transit centers, before being transferred to nearby refugee settlements. Location: Elegu Collection Point, Oct. 27, 2016.
  • A group of women stand in the rain waiting to be registered and to receive their refugee status at Kuluba Collection Point.<b
    Natalia Jidovanu
    A group of women stand in the rain waiting to be registered and to receive their refugee status at Kuluba Collection Point.
    Location: Kuluba Collection Point, Nov. 1, 2016.
  • Many of those able to make the journey arrive in a worrying state of health after walking for days or weeks, often with no ac
    Natalia Jidovanu
    Many of those able to make the journey arrive in a worrying state of health after walking for days or weeks, often with no access to food and clean water, requiring immediate humanitarian assistance and medical attention.   Location: Yoyo Health Centre, Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, Nov. 2, 2016.
  • Uganda has adopted a pioneering approach to refugee management and protection, integrating refugees within local host communi
    Natalia Jidovanu
    Uganda has adopted a pioneering approach to refugee management and protection, integrating refugees within local host communities. Refugees are provided with land on which they are allowed to build new homes and grow crops, in an attempt to reduce their dependency on humanitarian aid. Refugees also have the right to work. Location Pagirinya Refugee Settlement, Oct. 29, 2016.
  • "We had a case of a 9-year-old boy who was traveling alone with his 2-year-old brother and had to bury him because he died al
    Natalia Jidovanu
    "We had a case of a 9-year-old boy who was traveling alone with his 2-year-old brother and had to bury him because he died along the journey," said a Medical Teams International health worker at Elegu Collection Point. Location: Pagirinya Refugee Settlement, Oct. 29, 2016.
  • Staff from Medical Teams International is providing basic health care, ensuring all children are properly immunized, and scre
    Natalia Jidovanu
    Staff from Medical Teams International is providing basic health care, ensuring all children are properly immunized, and screening for any signs of malnutrition. All of the work is done at reception centers and settlements. Location: Pagirinya Health Centre, Oct. 29, 2016.
  • A young mother and her child on arrival at Kuluba Collection Point, near the border with South Sudan. "We walked through the
    Natalia Jidovanu
    A young mother and her child on arrival at Kuluba Collection Point, near the border with South Sudan. "We walked through the bush for four days. My father is still in the village. He is too old to make the journey on foot," said Sarah A. Location: Kuluba Collection Point, Nov. 1, 2016.
  • At Elegu Collection Point, a family of refugees carries their luggage for relocation to Bidi Bidi settlement. <i>Location: El
    Natalia Jidovanu
    At Elegu Collection Point, a family of refugees carries their luggage for relocation to Bidi Bidi settlement. Location: Elegu Collection Point, Oct. 27, 2016.
  • In the settlements, UNHCR together with the Office of The Prime Minister and World Food Programme work together to provide sh
    Natalia Jidovanu
    In the settlements, UNHCR together with the Office of The Prime Minister and World Food Programme work together to provide shelter, emergency relief items and food. Location: Ocea Reception Centre, Nov. 4, 2016.
  • A South Sudan refugee child is immunized and screened by a Medical Teams International clinical officer at the Kuluba Collect
    Natalia Jidovanu
    A South Sudan refugee child is immunized and screened by a Medical Teams International clinical officer at the Kuluba Collection Point, before being transported to the new Bidi Bidi refugee settlement. As UNHCR’s lead partner in providing health interventions for refugees in West Nile, Medical Teams International has deployed health workers at each refugee entry point and is able to provide medical support to refugees that may need medical attention on arrival as well as in the camps. Location: Kuluba Collection Point, Nov. 1, 2016.
  • "I don&rsquo;t know whether my parents are alive or dead. It&rsquo;s sad to see the youth of South Sudan abandoning their dre
    Natalia Jidovanu
    "I don’t know whether my parents are alive or dead. It’s sad to see the youth of South Sudan abandoning their dreams and run for their life. The soldiers were coming to our villages at night, killing the men and raping the women. Why would you kill someone who is an innocent?" asked Daniel N., 19.
    Location: Ocea Reception Centre, Nov. 4, 2016.
  • At 60 years old, Mary F. lives in Pagirinya refugee settlement with her son, two daughters and two grandchildren. "The soldie
    Natalia Jidovanu
    At 60 years old, Mary F. lives in Pagirinya refugee settlement with her son, two daughters and two grandchildren. "The soldiers were coming, they were surrounding our houses, shooting and beating people. We were scared because we didn't know what was happening." Mary recalls the days before the family decided to flee to Uganda. "We walked for two days. I arrived at Nimule very weak." Location: Pagirinya refugee settlement, Oct. 29, 2016.
  • "This is the third time I am fleeing into Uganda. My wife is in trauma. We worked hard all our life. We had a house. We lost
    Natalia Jidovanu
    "This is the third time I am fleeing into Uganda. My wife is in trauma. We worked hard all our life. We had a house. We lost everything in 1990. We lost everything in October again. Every time we run, we have to start our life from zero." Originally from Yei, two of John's children were born in Uganda as refugees. "I have not been able to communicate with my children for two weeks. They are still in Juba. There is no peace in Juba. But people are afraid of talking." John shares his dream of unity and peace among all tribes in South Sudan: "The only way to end this cycle of violence and death is putting the power in the hands of a man who fears God. Our country won't be at peace until we have a president who puts people before himself. We are tired of running and being refugees." Location: Ocea Reception Centre, Nov. 4, 2016.
  • "Before the war, life was good in our country," said&nbsp;Simon O., who is 75 years old and lives in Pagirinya refugee settle
    Natalia Jidovanu
    "Before the war, life was good in our country," said Simon O., who is 75 years old and lives in Pagirinya refugee settlement with his daughter-in-law and six grandchildren. "We had land and we could farm. Everything changed in July. We did not know that the fighting was coming. We came to Uganda with empty hands." Simon's son was killed during the violence that erupted in July. Simon traveled to the border using a motorbike driver, while the daughter-in-law and the children traveled on foot. Now a refugee, Simon lost his right leg after stepping on a land mine in 2005. Location: Pagirinya Refugee Settlement, Oct. 29, 2016.

This article has been updated with the most recent numbers from the Bidi Bidi camp.

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