By Hafiz Bakhit, Arua one fm
A two hours grueling Journey through the jugged Road leads us to Rhino camp settlement in Omugo Zone. This is just one among the various Settlements hosting South Sudanese and Congolese Refugees who escaped war back in their countries of Origin.
Here, we meet a number of girls all below 18 years old carrying babies not born by their mothers or relatives, but by the girls themselves. These are girls, pushed into early marriage, early pregnancy, by tough conditions especially when Food, a critical basic need for survival, was getting hard to come by. Among them is a 16 -year-old refugee mother whose names have been withheld due to ethical issues.
But even after getting married, hoping to be better, Pondering the next move to secure what to eat, without completely no idea of when, where and how she can make the breakthrough is still a routine to this worried looking Girl.
Now the worst is, she is not only distressed of herself feeling the Pinch of starvation but the fragile soul she has to take care of, that is her 1-year-old baby whose father is no-where to be traced.
“I decided to marry but even in Marriage I still suffer because my husband cannot afford to buy food for us. I am still one running around to look for food,” the young mother regrets.
Her story is not any different from her colleagues and many others spread across the refugee settlements in the West Nile region.
A Teenage mother refugee in the Same Zone also revealed how he got married at 16. “I have no father or mother; I came to the settlement with only my sister who has gone back,” she adds, even after marriage, getting food is still a challenge. One after, other narrate how reduction of food has pushed them in more problems”
“For example, now that I have a baby but the father of the baby ran away” one of the teenage mothers revealed.
“I thought I was suffering too much, so I felt I should marry so that I can stay in peace but my dream never came true, I am suffering more” she advises young girls who contemplate on getting married to abandon such a thought, citing her example and others who are now suffering.
Adiga Peter, who has a family of Seven is among those completely removed from the Food ration. He wonders why he has been removed yet he is sick, and does not work yet able people who claim to be refugees travel all the way from Urban Centers to pick food in the settlement.
“when they removed my family from food aid, two young girls in my family started sneaking at night and when I asked them to stop the behavior, they replied that they would go out to look for means of survival” Adiga reveals.
Uganda is Africa’s largest refugee hosting country with about 1.4 million refugees and asylum seekers mostly South Sudanese and also some Congolese who fled the war in their country of origin. The refugee response is being confronted by a dire funding gap as a result of the devastating impact of Covid-19, the Global economic recession, the War in Ukraine among others. The funding gap pushed the World Food Program to cut food rations and, in some instances, completely removed some refugee households from food support.
Marcus Prior, the World Food Program deputy Country director recently told the media that, due to financial Constraints as a result of other emergency needs in other parts of the world, Priority is given to more vulnerable sections of the refugee community.
“Previously the level of food assistance was based on refugee status, but now it will be based on Vulnerability” He adds, refugee families that are self-sustaining are removed from food assistance.
“The is enormous competition out there in terms of need for Humanitarian funding worldwide and we expect more shortfalls in 2023”, the WFP deputy director warns.
For most families, all they now look forward to is a meal, and when this is not forthcoming, they do anything to generate money to get food. This includes compelling young girls into early marriage, Teenage pregnancy and its associated dangers. With the ongoing food crisis and looming threat of complete withdrawal of support, Many Young Refugee Girls have left the camps to the urban centers in a desperate attempt to gamble life.
Some of these young girls are being pushed into riskier means of Survival including prostitution. Faced with the daily challenges of overseeing the welfare of the refugees, the Government of Uganda through the office of the Prime minister has continued to engage partners to contain the situation.
According to Emmanuel Agele, the Refugee Welfare Council I, Omugo Village 4, Some refugees do not get any food support at all.
“The situation has forced young refugee girls into Urban centers in a bid to gamble.
When they see life is hard in the settlement, they move to work as house girls, some join Prostitution, and many girls have gotten pregnant, Agele reveals. He adds, many of the boys Who Impregnate the girls run away.
As stakeholders struggle to find solution to the rising cases of teenage pregnancy among refugees, the Police spokesperson for west Nile Region Josephine Angucia has cautioned the refugees and host communities to be cautious of the Ugandan law saying the long arm of the law will catch with anyone who perpetuates act of defilement.
The refugees ask for more livelihood projects and land for Cultivation of Crops for self-sustainability.
“Let partners support us with micro grants, Savings schemes and knowledge because if we acquire the Business knowledge we can be self-sustaining RWC 1″ Agele added.
Tako Godfrey, the Community Services officer in the office of the prime minister confirms the challenges.
“Many partners in Exiting yet the refugees are still very vulnerable, a reason why we are constantly appealing to partners for support” Tako says,
Tako also reveals that OPM is engaging the Host community to offer more refugees more land for Cultivation however climate Change is a stumbling block to the effort.
“Our partners are sensitizing the community about dangers of early pregnancy, Tako says”
He adds, there has been a waiver for girls who are pregnant to return to school, while breast feeding corners have been established so that the girls are InTouch with their Babies while at school.
As West Nile Sub region in Northern Uganda, which hosts a big number of the refugees grapples with the challenges the biggest question is what the future is like for these already vulnerable communities that rely on the good will of Charity entities and Non-Government organizations to survive and access basics rights such as food, shelter, Medical care, Education among others.
Faced with daily stress of uncertainty, many have decided to take that perilous journey back home despite the risks involved due to the Insecurity back home.