Lamwo District has received an increased number of refugees fleeing from war-torn South Sudan.
The influx of South Sudanese refugees had sharply reduced in the past months due to relative stability in Africa’s youngest nation but resurgence of violence and famine in the neighbouring Torit State has seen many fleeing into Uganda, according to district officials.
Mr Julius Kamuze, the Palabek Settlement Commandant, told Daily Monitor in an interview yesterday that weekly, they receive more than 100 refugees crossing into the district compared to slightly half the numbers they received in the past months.
The refugees reportedly cross through the four border points of Madi-Opei, Ngomoromo, Aweno Olwi and Waligo, all bordering South Sudan.
Mr Kamuze said the numbers are expected to increase in the coming days.
“The refugees we spoke to tell us of famine, tribal clashes and insecurity brought by various militias operating in their areas. They are fleeing for safety and to find food,” he said.
Mr Kamuze said they currently have a total of 277 South Sudanese refugees who are undergoing registration at reception centres before they are reallocated to the settlement centre.
The Lamwo District chairperson, Mr John Thomas Ogwok, said the high influx of refugees has affected delivery of healthcare and education services in the district.
“Due to the high numbers of the refugees, we are finding it hard to provide health care within the health facilities, there are few health workers and the health facilities constantly run out of drugs. The schools cannot now also accommodate the overwhelming numbers of pupils because of limited classrooms,” Mr Ogwok said.
He said the district, in the last financial year, received Shs1.3 billion from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for emergency response to the refugees’ crisis and appealed for more support.
He said they used the money to construct a theatre and staff homes in Palabek Health Centre III, a TB ward and administrative houses in Padibe Health Centre III and classroom blocks.
“We still appeal to the UNHCR and government to consider increasing funding to the district to help manage the impact of the refugees’ influx in this area,” Mr Ogwok said.
Palabek refugee settlement centre is host to 31,173 South Sudanese refugees who fled from the neighbouring Torit State ever since violence between government forces and various militias erupted in April last year.
Uganda hosts nearly 1.4 million refugees, majority of whom fled from South Sudan.
Meanwhile, Police in Lamwo District are holding two soldiers believed to be of South Sudan national army at Palabek Refugee Settlement Camp in Lamwo District over abducting a refugee.
Cpl Gabriel Mathuc and Pr Jacob Monday are members of SPLM Military Intelligence Training Centre in Owinykibul, Magwi County in Torit State, South Sudan.
Daily Monitor has established that the pair held a letter purportedly written by the commander, one Capt Dominic, addressed to the OC Palabek Refugee Camp requesting to allow them search for and arrest one of the refugees.
Mr Jonathan Rutabingwa, the Lamwo Resident District Commissioner, confirmed the arrest of the soldiers on Thursday.
“The letter indicates that they wanted to arrest one of the refugees named William Lokang whom they accused in the letter of deserting the army and fleeing to Uganda (at Palabek Camp) with a rifle,” Mr Rutabingwa said.
“After arresting them on (September) 6, we investigated and found out that the person they meant to arrest did not exist at the settlement but according to the picture they showed, we identified Yakobu Lokiru whom we also arrested,” he said.
Mr Lokiru led the search team to Waligu Border point where he hid the gun.
“We immediately launched a search but recovered an SMG AK47 rifle with 25 rounds of ammunition on Friday at the border point in Waligu when Lokiru led us,” Mr Rutabingwa added.
Waligu is one of the four border points through which South Sudanese fleeing insurgency have been using to get access into Uganda as refugees.
The trio is currently being held at Lamwo Central Police Station.
The UPDF 4th Infantry Division spokesman, Maj Telesphor Turyamumanya, said the soldiers ignored Uganda’s mandate to protect refugees.
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