By Daniel Amule
Arua-Food is an essential item that one has to find in his/her everyday life, but in Ofua, fights always break up between men and women as they struggle to receive the food.
But at Ofua Settlement camp in Uriama Sub-county in Arua district, the South Sudan refugees who fled from wars and hunger in their country have continued to face violence that usually erupt during food distribution.
When they fled, they thought of now having a zero hunger especially with support from the humanitarian organisations. Situations always turn nasty when the elderly are pushed away from the lines by the youths during food distribution. The elderly ends up missing on the food rationing, that is given once a month.
This has led to gender based violence in the camps as fights always erupt between men and women. Already 1.25 million people in South Sudan face starvation just like those who fled for safety in Uganda in the various camps.
One of the women who was raped and beaten by host community, but declined to be named for her safety reasons, said: “Not only do these people physically and sexually abuse me, they also try to steal my motherhood and my ability to care for my family.”
She was a survivor of the worst type of assault-ever. She shared that on her way to pick up some firewood as she headed to the food rationing site, some locals from the host community grabbed her, tied her up, beat her, and aggressively raped her.
They then told her the only reason they had done it was to prevent her from getting food to provide for her family. She has remained with the trauma for months as a result of the rape.
That’s the tale of one of the sexual gender based violence survivors in Ofua Zone in Rhino Camp Settlement who preferred anonymity.
A woman narrates her ordeal at Ofua camp. All Photos by Daniel Amule.
During a visit to the camp, another woman, Wilaru Joyce, at Ofua Zone VI attributes the increase in gender based violence cases to the power of money and the reduced food ratio.
According to her instead of receiving 100 per cent food, the food ratio reduced to 50 percent plus money.
“We used to receive 12kgs of maize floor but it has been reduced to 6kgs, beans and cooking oil plus seven thousand shillings per person in the family. The men want to handle the money which they mishandle most times while the women are left with the food,” she added.
Late last year, World Food Program cut the supply of food by 50 per cent and opted to provide the remaining 50 per cent in cash. This has made some of the refugees go hungry, they sell part of the food given to them in order to buy some items with the money.
Some of them have started backyard farming to beef up the food supplied to them. In the families, the women battle with their husbands who always want to sell the food given to them. This then leads to fights at homes.
The fact that the food is not enough, the women sell part of it to buy other necessities like salt, soap, sugar that are not supplied but they end up being battered by their husbands.
Ofua III is fast becoming a business Centre with very many recreational centres like bars, hotels, disco halls, betting spots among springing up. Most men and youth frequent these places to relax or spend their leisure time. Trouble starts when these men get drunk and they attempt to rape these women.
A family seating outside their home in Ofua.
According to Nelson Mandela, a youth from Ofua III, when some of the refugee men receive the money (Shs 7,000) per person in the family, their next family is the bar where they drink alcohol and start cheating.
“The cases of rape and defilement of underage girls have become rampant. The men after getting intoxicated with alcohol their libido rises. They target the young girls who move late in the evening from school or at night from helping with work at the trading centres,” he said.
Such tales and more that are present in the refugee camps have caught the attention of the refugee representatives and refugee agencies that have come on board to handle such cases.
Statistics from Tereka Fabian Remijo a case worker with CARE international at Ofua III shows that since May 2017, 30 survivors of gender based violence cases were registered.
These common violence in the camps include rape, defilement, marital rape and battering of women.
These cases are handled at Local council, block level by block leaders. And when the block leaders can’t manage, cluster leaders are involved and Refugee welfare council IIIs before they are referred to the police. Yet according to Uganda’s constitution, cases of defilement are capital offenses that does not require negotiations.
In the Ofua refugee camp CARE International is focusing its work on Gender Based Violence. CARE’s top priority when speaking publicly about GBV is to protect the safety and dignity of survivors.
A banner for CARE at Ofua settlement.
According to Josephine the Gender Based Violence Officer CARE Uganda the numbers of survivors who come to seek for help from the community volunteers are very few because of the social and cultural customs and norms.
“Although we are careful not to reveal the names, faces, and locations of survivors without their knowledge and consent, Identifying a survivor can sometimes lead to unintended harms, such as expulsion from her or his family and community, further violence, and devastating social stigma,” she noted.
However CARE International is working with the community volunteers in the camps to do sensitization and awareness creation on sexual gender based violence or gender based violence to reduce these cases.
Assistant settlement commandant Rhino Camp, David Abili, points out that there are many vulnerability factors that culminate into sexual gender based violence. “There are many ways of avoiding sexual gender violence move in groups, do not move at night, avoid bad friends especially those who do drugs,” Abili added.
He encourages the survivors of sexual gender based violence to always report such cases to the local councils block cluster leaders and police so that the perpetrators are punished.
Uganda now now hosts about 1.2 million South Sudan refugees who have fled their country due to wars and hunger. More have continued to trickle in as the South Sudan leaders have failed to agree to end the war. Over 85 per cent are women and children.