Refugee Situation in Uganda
The presence of refugees is a moral, social, geo-political reality in the world of today. It is also a pastoral issue in the church. At the present time, in the world over, a significant number of human beings are at the mercy of host countries and of particular communities for their much needed basic necessities for survival. But at the same time, hosting refugees remains a big challenge for everyone, both the wealthier and the underdeveloped nations, including Uganda.
Uganda is ordinarily known as a “Third World” country, but today, it is one of the leading countries in hosting refugees. It not only welcomes neighbours who are in war and conflict, but also opens its doors to people from distant countries. There could be political reasons for accepting refugees, but credit goes to ordinary citizens who are welcoming and adapting to hundreds and thousands of neighbours who are refugees in dire need for survival. Amidst the controversy surrounding the number of refugees in Uganda, we can reliably say that they are a little over ONE MILLION, who are sheltered in the border districts of the country. According to a report dated 18th August 2018, UNHCR reports that Uganda has 1,505,323 refugees sheltered in 28 Refugee Settlements. As per the report, Palabek has 35,487, Moyo has 163,721, Bidibidi has 287,801 and Adjumani has 241,098 refugees, all coming from South Sudan. There are several other settlements in mid-western and south western districts housing refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. It is believed that there are about 10,000 urban refugees in Kampala, besides numerous others in other urban centres in Uganda.
The gazetted places of refugees are called Settlements rather than Camps, because people are allowed to live for many years and if they wish to live there in perpetuity, they are free to do so. The refugees will never be asked to leave, unless by voluntary repatriation. It is not an exaggeration to say that no other country in the world has this magnanimous hospitality. But, it is also important to pay attention to the challenges of integration of these settlers with the natives.
Refugees in Uganda are mostly people from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, which are commonly known as Catholic countries. We need to ask soul-searching questions: ‘Why do African countries with majority of Catholic population have unsettled wars and conflicts for decades? Have we looked for solutions for peace as a faith community? Does our faith influence our lives, including politics?’ Perhaps, we never raised these questions for thought! Now, the big question goes to the Church in Uganda; ‘Have we made any pastoral plan to serve them while they are with us?’ Often, thousands of refugees who are Catholics are at the mercy of the local parishes in different dioceses yearning for pastoral and spiritual support. But, the local parishes are overwhelmed by the numbers and practically do not know what to do.
Priests often say, ‘my parish is already vast and I struggle to reach to several villages that are under my care… now what can I do for these refugees?’ A few honestly express; ‘Sorry, I cannot do anything, I wait for more directives and assistance from above.’ And the priests of the neighbouring parishes do not carry out any visits to the settlements. Now the question is, ‘What shall we do in this emergency situation?’ As earlier stated more than half the numbers of refugees in Uganda come from South Sudan and profess Catholicism. Even before coming to Uganda as refugees, they have had pastoral challenges in their home areas. Since 1964 when the missionaries were expelled from the Sudan, several areas were not served by priests and religious. Very few pastoral activities were done by catechists who were often not formally trained. Many refugees claim to be Catholics, but they do not have knowledge of the rudiments of Christian faith. Perhaps, the refugee situation gives them some opportunity to know their faith. Through a weekend visit to Kyaka II Refugee Settlement, I came to know that except for the Sunday masses offered by a neighbouring parish once in a while, 68,000 people do not receive any pastoral help. There are only seven primary schools and one secondary school serving this huge number of people.
Refugee settlements are filled with adolescents, especially girls. Often, they are forced into moral problems due to redundancy in the settlement. They have few or no opportunity to go to school or learn a skill for living. They are forced to get into marital relationships or end up being sexually abused. It is not uncommon to see girls below 16 years pregnant and ending up being child-mothers. It is urgent to keep young girls in school so as to reduce social and moral problems. As international bodies and Non-Governmental Organisations are able to do only little, it is high time the religious got into the lives of these vulnerable youth.
Religious congregations and other missionary institutes have well thought out charisms and well trained personnel to suit the needs of people living as refugees in difficult situations. It is a clear opportunity for Religious men and women to dedicate their lives, even for a short period of time to serve the Christians in need. Even if one Sister, Brother or Priest were to be assigned by the 98 Religious congregations and institutes of apostolic life currently serving in Uganda, we would have enough personnel in the Refugee Settlements. All charisms, be it teaching, medical or social ministry can find a pastoral opportunity to serve. Perhaps, more coordination may be done by bishops in consultation with religious congregations.
Dioceses that have refugee settlements can find volunteer priests to serve at least on part time basis. In the same way, lay missionaries and volunteers can be organized by the dioceses and congregations. They can offer the much needed religious, educational and social assistance among the most vulnerable people of our times – these refugees. Then, we are able to exercise all the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy – feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the lonely and caring for the deceased.
Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB is a salesian missionary working in Palabek Refugee Camp
Nov 14, 2018 0Setting out in 1993, Uganda Martyrs University (UMU) has...
Jul 03, 2018 Comments Off on When a worker is punished for being honestBy Venansio Ahabwe Mr. Naperi did not acquire a lot of...