Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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Come on Over: Uganda Opens Doors for Southern Sudanese Refugees While the Rest of East Africa Sleeps

 

J. Michal Forbes

 

Tucked away south of South Sudan and north of Tanzania lies Uganda, the Pearl of Africa.[i]  Located on the north shores of Lake Victoria, Uganda is known for its delicious fresh fruit and its vast number of gorillas.[ii]

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In a mere six months, the Ugandan government built the Bidi Bidi settlement, which is one of the largest refugee settlements in the world.[iii] There are currently more than 600,000 South Sudanese living in Uganda and thousands more cross the border every day.[iv] The UN estimates there will be an additional 300,000 entering Uganda in 2017, with 86% of refugees being women.[v] 

South Sudan, despite being one of the newest nations in the word, is on the brink of an ethnic civil war.[vi] Hostilities between the Dinka, the largest ethnic group in the country, and the Nuer have led to the death of over 300,000 people. Despite outside attempts to initiate peace agreements and a ceasefire, the violence still continues in Juba, the capital.[vii] As a result, thousands of South Sudanese people are fleeing, typically by foot, to Uganda, in hopes of escaping the violence.

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A sign welcoming visitors to South Sudan

Uganda is not without its own problems, however. In recent years, Uganda has made headlines for its corrupt political practices, criminalizing homosexuality and soaring poverty rates.[viii] Yet, Uganda has a surprisingly  unusual open policy that allows refugees to own land, receive an education, and work.[ix] In fact, Uganda is the third largest refugee-hosting country in Africa after Ethiopia and Kenya. [x]  The country’s approach to refugees focuses on community integration, in hopes that the burden will be less on the economy because of the integration.[xi]

Considering that Uganda has a significant over-population problem that strains its government’s finances, it is surprising that they have opened their borders to South Sudanese refugees. According to the World Bank, Uganda’s population grew from less than 9 million in 1969 to over 41 million in 2014.[xii]  Additionally, Uganda has the fifth highest total fertility rate in the world with almost 6 children born per woman.[xiii] Uganda remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with most people living off of US $1.90 a day.[xiv]

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A South Sudanese baby being immunized[xv]

Unfortunately, in December Bidi Bidi had to stop allowing in new refugees, except for those uniting with family. Reports have said that Bidi Bidi is transforming from a refugee camp to an actual community. Uganda is getting outside financial assistance from UNHCR and Medical Teams International who work with the refugee population to bring them much needed resources. However, the refugees still need a lot more help than what Uganda can give. It will take help from outside international organizations in order to ensure that the refugees get the proper schools, homes and educational opportunities they need in order to fully integrate into the Ugandan community.

The question arises, if Uganda, a country that is economically strained and does not has limited resources is able to accept over half a million people from the South Sudan, when will the rest of the world pitch in and help? The whole premise of Africans helping Africans is inspiring, however the impact of the South Sudan civil war can cripple East Africa’s regional economy and security.[xvi]

In order for the crisis in South Sudan to not to severely cripple East Africa’s region, it is vital that the East African Community as a whole adopts similar policies as Uganda. The East African Community, or EAC, is comprised of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. The EAC is focused more on economic and trade development in the region and less with humanitarian aid.

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The East African Community Logo[xvii]

It would be beneficial if the EAC would borrow from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) by adopting a policy of “community citizens”, in which all citizens of the 16 states that comprise ECOWAS can reside in community member states. The treaty establishing the EAC does mention that “’partner states undertake to establish common mechanisms for the management of refugees’”, but no action has ever been taken.[xviii] Considering that South Sudan is a member state of the EAC, the other states should accept refugees similarly to Uganda.

If not, Uganda will be only country in East Africa that South Sudanese refugees can enter, live in and prosper. The semi-stability that EAC has enjoyed over the last few years could be adversely impacted. Once the dominoes start to fall in the region, it will be hard to pick them back up again.

J. Michal Forbes is a proud native of Prince George’s County, Maryland, Ms. Forbes has a fiery passion for international law, travel and frozen yogurt. After receiving her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Maryland, Baltimore she taught ESOL in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area before joining the US Peace Corps in 2011. Ms. Forbes served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine from 2011 to 2013, in a small town between the Red Sea and the Black Sea in Crimea. Fluent in Russian, Ms. Forbes soon caught the travel bug and traveled/worked extensively throughout Eastern Europe during her 27 month commitment. Currently a 3L, Ms. Forbes is a member of the International Law Society, Immigration Law Society, Black Law Student Association and the Women Lawyers as Leaders Initiative. She has worked for Maryland Legal Aid and the NAACP’s Office of the Attorney General. She was recently awarded the honor of being named Article Editor with the University of Baltimore Law Forum, a scholarly legal journal focused on rising issues in Maryland. It is her dream to work for the U.S. government assisting with asylum seekers and refugee.  In her free time, Ms. Forbes enjoys eating frozen yogurt with her husband and learning Arabic.

 

[i] Uganda, Global Interlink, http://www.global-interlink.org/id2.html    

[ii] 21 Interesting Facts About Uganda You’ve Never Heard Before, BuzzKenya, http://buzzkenya.com/facts-about-uganda/

[iii] Uganda’s sprawling haven for 270,000 of South Sudan’s refugees, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/24/uganda-sprawling-haven-for-270000-of-south-sudans-refugees

[iv] South Sudan Region Refugee Response Plan: January – December 2017, UNHCR, available at http://www.unhcr.org/578f2da07.pdf

[v] Id.

[vi] UN: South Sudan on brink of ethnic civil war, Al Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/12/south-sudan-brink-ethnic-civil-war-161214104548897.html

[vii] Violence, fear and looting grip South Sudan’s capital Juba, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jul/19/south-sudan-violence-fear-looting-juba

[viii] Uganda’s Deteriorating Human Rights Record up for Review, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/11/02/ugandas-deteriorating-human-rights-record-review

[ix] Is Uganda the best place to be a refugee?, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/aug/20/is-uganda-the-best-place-to-be-a-refugee

[x] id.

[xi] Uganda’s sprawling haven for 270,000 of South Sudan’s refugees, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/24/uganda-sprawling-haven-for-270000-of-south-sudans-refugees

[xii] Uganda Populations, worldometers, http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/uganda-population/

[xiii] Uganda: The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ug.html

[xiv] Poverty headcount ratio at $1.90 a day (2011 PPP) (% of population), http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.DDAY

[xv] South Sudanese Refugees are Flowing into Uganda at an Unprecedented Rate, The World Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/south-sudanese-refugees-uganda_us_582dbecae4b099512f810c15

[xvi] South Sudan civil war: What it means for East Africa, Blasting News, http://us.blastingnews.com/world/2016/07/south-sudan-civil-war-what-it-means-for-east-africa-001011003.html

[xvii] Taken from the East African Community Website, http://www.eac.int/

[xviii] The East African Community and the Refugee Question, The Society for International Development, http://www.sidint.net/content/east-african-community-and-refugee-question

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