Hunger is forcing some South Sudanese refugees living in Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe District back to their home country despite safety concerns.
Ms Samimu Jaria, a farmer in Kiranga village, Yumbe District said that, “Some of our refugee brothers and sisters have gone back to South Sudan to look for food. It is not their wish to go back illegally but the living conditions have forced them to return back to their country.”
The refugees are returning through the various porous border points without authorization.
“We have some families that left the settlement camp because of food shortage. A friend left almost one month ago and there are so many people who are leaving the settlement to South Sudan,” Mr Paul Mambueyi, the Refugee Welfare Council II Chairperson in Ariwa II, told the media on June 21.
Mr Mambueyi said the hunger is caused by reduction in food rations from relief agencies like World Food Program (WFP).
WFP is working with partners to promote early transition from food assistance to self-reliance, a strategy that has affected many refugees.
Mambueyi said, “If you move around in the cluster (Zone five) you will find some households are already empty due to this reduction of food ratio. The reduction was done so quickly from 70 kilograms to 4.4 kilogram per person in a month which is little.”
WFP is providing cash/food assistance to meet the food and nutrition needs of over one million refugees as well as Ugandans affected by recurring climate shocks.
Aid agencies like WFP are providing refugees with high-energy biscuits at the border and hot meals in transit centres. They are then registered to receive cash or food rations as to enable them settle down and are allocated land within settlements.
In 2018, WFP introduced biometric verification of all refugees receiving food or cash to ensure that the right beneficiaries get the assistance they need.
Other aid agencies have come in to support the remaining refugees.
Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has started a free E-voucher program for refugee and host community farmers to allow them purchase quality farm inputs during the rainy season.
This is aimed to make them self-reliant for food and other basic needs.
Mr Patrick Olango, the Program officer, Norwegian Refugee Council in Yumbe district said the initiative is to help the refugees access quality seeds for food production to address food shortages.
“Bidibidi is located far away from the town where farming practices can be done. We have beneficiaries who do not have access to land particularly the refugees because they were given 30 by 30 meters piece of land for cultivation,” Olango said.
The NRC general manager Omia Agribusiness, Mr Kato Omia, said the initiative under NRC helps farmers to access quality seeds.
“It is a process where we give seeds under E-voucher systems to the farmers and for the past three years, we have realized that the farmers have really gained knowledge because every time we bring seeds to them, we also give out free extension services,” he said.
Bidibidi settlement was established in September 2016 to host the rapid influx of South Sudanese refugees, primarily arriving from the Equatoria region along the reaches of the upper White Nile.
The settlement population increased rapidly to over 280,000 people, making it one of the largest refugee settlements in the world.