Posted by: Ana Monroy | March 11, 2011

Uganda Dialogue kicks off in Kyangwali refugee settlement

“I am fine, well, not very fine, as we have many problems,” was the answer to the question “how are you?” that came from one of the first refugee women we talked to yesterday morning upon the start of the Women’s Dialogue. Enthusiasm to participate in the Dialogues among both refugees and UNHCR staff and partners is high – an indication of the many problems refugees face here and the great willingness to share their stories to hopefully improve their situation. More than 40 refugee men and 70 refugee women are participating in the Dialogues in Kyangwali refugee settlement, northwest Uganda, which started on Wednesday and Thursday.

The settlement currently hosts about 19,000 of the 150,000 refugees in this country, most of them from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many of them arrived in recent years, fleeing the violence that is haunting the east of their country. Another large group represented in the Dialogue is the Southern Sudanese – the majority of whom remain unable to return despite the recent referendum. Smaller numbers of refugees come from Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia and other countries. In contrast to a camp situation, refugees in settlements in Uganda are given small plots of land to build their homes and grow some crops. This generous policy gives them a certain degree of autonomy – nevertheless, most refugees have to rely on food assistance.

Distances between the different parts of the settlement – consisting of 14 villages – are long, and in the absence of public transport, this means people spend hours walking to the health clinic, or children to school. From our comfy UNHCR van, we saw groups of children walking to and from school in their brightly-coloured pink or purple uniforms, yelling “Muzungu! Muzungu!” (white person) and waving at us.

Our team is staying in a wonderful guesthouse run by the local parish. We’re sharing delicious meals with the fathers and learning about their lives. Last night we discussed the universal topic of soccer – the refugee settlement has a team too, but they don’t often get to play out of the settlement, despite invitations from the local parish.

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