This week, during World Refugee Week, the Anglican Alliance is showcasing examples where Anglican and Episcopal churches around the world are responding to refugees with practical assistance, welcoming refugees in to their communities and discovering mutual enrichment through this engagement. As today’s story about the refugees from South Sudan shows, church leaders are also often involved in working for peace and reconciliation so that the refugees can return home. This report is by the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA).
CHURCH LEADERS MAKE SOLIDARITY VISIT TO SOUTH SUDAN REFUGEES IN UGANDA
Church leaders from South Sudan have made a solidarity visit to South Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda this week. Regional Leaders representing various Councils of Churches from the East Africa region and other parts of Africa were hosted by the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), the South Sudan Christian Council (SSCC) and the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) in a week of activities that began with a 3 day visit to the refugee settlements in North and West Ugandan Districts Bidibidi, Rhino, Adjumani, Lamwo, and Kiryandongo respectively.
The church leaders met and held discussions with many men, women and children who have fled South Sudan as a result of the ongoing political crisis and resultant violence. The refugees shared their experiences and pain with the church leaders as they recounted the loss of loved ones, forced separations of family members, difficult living conditions in the refugee settlements and their concerns with the escalating conflict that is causing more and more South Sudanese to pour into the settlements.
In the midst of these visits that brought a tear to many an eye, the Church Leaders encouraged the refugees with the words of Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”
While acknowledging the warmth and generosity of the Government of Uganda and the local communities in hosting and protecting them, and the International Community for humanitarian support, it was clear that the humanitarian agencies (Office of the Prime Minister, UNHCR and LWF etc.) are challenged in providing adequate food, health and education facilities to all the refugees.
The Office of the Prime Minister’s Refugee Desk Officer in Adjumani, Mr. Titus Jogo, shared worrying statistics. He said that an average of 2,000 South Sudanese cross the border into Uganda daily, most of them women and children. He however added that they are received at the border points and assisted to reach the receiving centres, registered and provided with food and non-food items as well as medical care before they are settled into the areas that have been designated by the hosting communities for refugees.
Most of the camps provide at least a 30 by 30 metre piece of land to build a shelter. In some of the camps where the land is more abundant, these people of concern are also given a small plot to farm. He also confirmed that the refugees are allowed to move out of the settlements to seek employment subject to Ugandan laws, the Convention on the Status of Refugees and other International and regional protocols. He urged the Church to reach out to the refugees with the Gospel and provide psychosocial support for the refugees, many of whom are bitter, despondent and traumatised.
While addressing the church leaders, the refugees appealed to the Church in South Sudan to intensify its advocacy towards lasting peace in the country. They also expressed their desire to participate in the ongoing peace initiatives including the National Dialogue so that their views and concerns can be taken into consideration in all policy measures aimed at restoring and sustaining peace.
The refugees also acknowledged the work of other non-governmental agencies that are working within the settlements to build a culture of peace and harmonious co-existence, offering trauma counselling and other forms of psychosocial support as a way of providing holistic humanitarian assistance. A member of the Mothers’ Union in Madi West Nile Diocese recounted how they have ventured into some of the settlements to train some of the women on skills that will help them earn some income.
Following the visits in the settlements, the church leaders held sessions to reflect on their experiences among the refugees and come up with a way forward that will strengthen existing peace initiatives and particularly the SSCC’s Action Plan for Peace (APP). The APP as a roadmap towards peace in South Sudan is anchored on Advocacy, Neutral Forum (people to people dialogue in safe spaces) and Reconciliation. It was noted within the reflections that the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Heads of State will meet on 12th August 2017 to discuss the implementation of the agreement on the resolution of the conflict in South Sudan.
The church leaders concluded the reflection time and week by recommitting themselves to building unity in the Church in South Sudan “as a basis for assuring a coordinated and robust engagement with Government and people of South Sudan, regional leaders and the international community on the conflict in South Sudan and the quest for peace” as expressed in an ensuing press release. They also sent a pastoral letter to the people of South Sudan.