Uganda is now home to more than a million South Sudanese refugees, the United Nations said Thursday, as a result of an ongoing civil war in the world’s youngest nation.
The report from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees stated an average of 1,800 refugees had entered Uganda each day over the past 12 months. The number of migrants increased rapidly after deadly fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital of Juba in July 2016, the Associated Press reported.
Eighty-five percent of the new arrivals are women and children fleeing the violence. The U.N. said refugees have relayed stories of women and girls being sexually assaulted, armed groups burning down houses with people inside and boys forced to become soldiers.
“The U.N. is urgently calling on the international community, one for funding and two, for political support so that leaders can help bring them (warring sides) to the negotiating table,” said Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Uganda.
Uganda needs $674 million to assist South Sudanese refugees this year, according to the U.N. The nation is receiving about one-fifth of that amount.
Uganda is an attractive destination for refugees because of a welcoming policy toward migrants. Refugees are placed in settlements — or provided with land in the same communities as locals — instead of camps. Refugees are also issued a legal I.D. that allows them to move freely throughout the country.
In recent years, that policy has been tested, as Uganda’s neighbors experience unrest. More than two million people from South Sudan overall have fled since the country’s crisis began in 2013. Along with Uganda, South Sudanese refugees have also migrated into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Kenya and Ethiopia.
“Refugees have seen their food rations cut in half, and there aren’t enough doctors or medicine,” Yaxley said. “Many of the refugees are arriving sick and starving. They have been forced to walk through the bush lands because armed groups are located on the major exits, preventing people to leave from traditional routes.”.
As a result, he said, people are being forced to eat grass and poisonous berries. Many are turning to polluted rivers for drinking water, where the chances of contracting malaria are also higher.
The report called on countries around the world to increase their funding for relief efforts.