The life of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda on hold: Beatrice's story

"There is peace here and our plan is to stay and try to make our life.”  Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam
"There is peace here and our plan is to stay and try to make our life.” Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Beatrice*, 19, fled the war in South Sudan with her husband and young baby after her mother was raped and killed. She is just one of the one million South Sudanese refugees currently hosted in nearby Uganda. Beatrice lives with her family in Imvepi Refugee Settlement, along with 95,000 other refugees, where she found protection and access to limited food and water. She worries for her child’s and her own future, and dreams of going back to school and becoming a tailor one day.

The runaway

“We used to have a good life, but things started going wrong, we started to suffer, because of the war. This is why we moved from South Sudan, but it was a nice country before. There you see they are killing and raping people. They go from home to home and if they find you they will kill you, they slaughter, just like that,” she says. When the different armed groups started to kill her friends and relatives in her village, she ran away with her family to the bush. Unfortunately, her mother did not make it because she never recovered from multiple rape injuries. Only her husband, her baby and she managed to survive the journey.

South Sudanese refugees arriving at Imvepi Refugee reception center, Uganda. Photo: Kieran Doherty/OxfamSouth Sudanese refugees arriving at Imvepi Refugee Settlement. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

“When we reached the border I was just remembering what we had witnessed, what happened to us and to our friends, how we were running, stepping over the dead bodies just to safe our lives. We arrived exhausted, with nothing," she laments.

A new life in the refugee camp

“They brought us to this place in Uganda. Now that we are here, I feel relieved. We came to a country where you see there is no disturbance, you can sleep and we do not have to run in the middle of the night under the sounds of the bullets. There is peace here and our plan is to stay and try to make our life,” she says.

Hot meals being distributed at Imvepi Refugee Settlement, Uganda. Photo: Kieran Doherty/OxfamHot meals being distributed at Imvepi Refugee Settlement, Uganda. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Life in Imvepi is not easy. Food is sometimes scarce and access to water limited. Due to problems with her registration card, Beatrice did not receive her daily portion of food and basic equipment for cooking. “You have to chase where they are sharing. You look for the new people - the refugees- and share with them. My neighbor is helping me as well. If you don’t have you can ask from your neighbor and if you have some you bring back, you pay back,” she explaiins.

Imvepi Settlement is home to 95,000 refugees with between 600-1200 people arriving everyday. Photo: Kieran Doherty/OxfamIn the camp, each family is allocated a 30 x 30m plot and given emergency shelter materials. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Imvepi Refugee Settlement opened in February 2017 and can host a maximum of 110,000 people. To date, 95,000 people are registered and there are around 1,000 new arrivals every day, which makes the situation for residents more and more complicated.

“There is nothing you can provide, there is no milk. We have not eaten and any water that you get even down at the sewage you just drink to survive, even though it is dirty. After boiling you can drink it but if you don’t do it the dirt still remains,” Beatrice says.

Beatrice carrying some water in Imvepi Refugee Settlement, Uganda. Photo: Kieran Doherty /OxfamBeatrice is carrying some water in Imvepi Refugee Settlement. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

97% of the water in the settlement is trucked and the remaining 3% is sourced from existing boreholes that have been rehabilitated. Oxfam is working with partners to find more sustainable water solutions including analysis of where boreholes can be drilled.

We have also installed 675 emergency communal latrine blocks in the settlement and are encouraging and training families to dig their own household latrines. We provide the poles, logs, nails, sheets and slab for each family.

Her future on hold

Beatrice realizes their stay in the camp is temporary and her life and the ones of her family are on hold. “We are fine here but we just stay with your neighbors and that’s it. I want to do something for myself, to become a tailor, and do something to build up our future. We used to do some training, but there is nothing you can do to bring back your future in here,” she explains.

Beatrice* lives in Imvepi Refugee Settlement with her husband and young baby.  Photo: Kieran Doherty /OxfamBeatrice* lives in Imvepi Refugee Settlement with her husband and young baby.  Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

“South Sudan is my country, but I do not feel happy if they will take us back. I am not going back, because I lost all my family there. I have nothing to come back to, so I would like to stay in Uganda.”

Uganda is responding to a massive influx of refugees, one of the fastest growing in the world. The country hosts the most refugees of any African nation – 1.2 million - and is the third refugee-hosting nation in the world. There are now 1 million South Sudanese refugees in Uganda, the vast majority of them women and children. They have fled three years of brutal civil war and the severe hunger crisis it has triggered.

You can help

Support our work in Imvepi and other settlement camps in Uganda. Let’s build a future for Beatrice and her family.


* The name has been changed to protect identity.