By Paul Ndiho
United Nations World Refugee Day is commemorated each year on June 20th. The day honors the strength and courage of refugees and encourages public awareness of people who have fled their home lands due to conflict or natural disaster. This year’s theme is “Step With Refugees.”
Every minute, 20 thousands of men, women, and children are forced to flee to escape persecution, violence, or terror. Many of these people find themselves in Uganda, the host of over 1.4 million refugees and this number could grow up to 1.8 million by the end of the year, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Approximately 74 percent of all refugees are from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over three-thousand people who had sought sanctuary in U.N. protection sites during various conflicts are expressing the desire to return home according to the U.N.
“When they go back home, they are now free to do other things like cultivation, farming, fishing, business, even some people can go back to school, so we are trying to facilitate them to move on with their lives.”
South Sudan was plunged into civil war in 2013 after President Salva Kiir fired his deputy, Riek Machar. The conflict uprooted more than one-third of the country’s 12 million people from their homes. For the leader of the South Sudan National Movement for Change party, it was an emotional return to his home territory after five years in exile. He now has high hopes for peace and for his people who greeted him with enthusiasm.
“I’m also very excited to see them after five years out of the country. I never left them with hatred. I’m coming back with love and with unity and let us continue to push the country forward. That is the only message. Never go back to war again. We need peace. If anybody has any intention to go to war, please take care of the vulnerable, the women, and children who are suffering. We don’t need war again.”
it’s a different story in Ethiopia. Over one million people that were uprooted from their homes by ethnic clashes are still too terrified to return home. Twenty-two year-old Teketel Memheru is still too afraid to return home, more than a year after his house in southern Ethiopia was razed to the ground, his coffee plantation destroyed and his cattle stolen.
“We have seen no peace since Abiy came to power. Peace is the most important thing for a human being, not only to farm, but also to cultivate and eat what is farmed.”
Officials insist that what became the world’s largest internal displacement crisis in 2018, is now under control and that more than one-million people have returned to their homes. However, there are warnings that dire humanitarian conditions exist and are only set to get worse.
“The need is extensive and as you can see more than one million people have been displaced from different directions, so like these, there are several highly vulnerable and affected areas, so we addressed only highly vulnerable people with intensive targeting.”
Since coming to power in April 2018, after two years of anti-government unrest, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed — himself an Oromo — has been hailed for his efforts to end the iron-fisted rule of his predecessors.
He has embarked on economic reforms, allowed dissident groups back into the country, and under his leadership, an easing of control has seen Ethiopia jump 40 points in the 2019 press freedom index.
But tensions remain between ethnic groups who are divided into nine autonomous regions, some have boiled over — usually over land and resources — leading to deadly violence in the country of over 100 million people.