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22 January 2004 No 38
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KM editorial: the plight of the internally displaced 22nd January 2004
This issue of the newsletter is devoted to the plight of the internally displaced people (IDPs) living in “protected villages” of Northern Uganda.
In the last year Uganda has witnessed an escalation in violence in the North, as the ongoing conflict has spread further east, to Teso and Lango regions. This has resulted in a shocking increase in the number of people forced to leave their homes and live in the so-called “protected camps.” The camps were originally set up in 1996 as temporary shelters for civilians displaced by conflict. In many cases, civilians were forced to abandon their homes and to relocate to the crowded camps; they now house over a million people in Northern and Eastern Uganda, many of whom were born there or have been unable to leave since originally moving there in 1996. Research carried out in IDP camps in Gulu in October last year and in July 2000 revealed that many of the camp residents were forced to leave their homes rather than voluntarily relocate to the camps. They have been ordered not to return to their homes by the UPDF, supposedly because of the risk of rebel attacks.
Within the confines of the camps, cultural norms and traditions are disintegrating, leaving civilians feeling desperate, disillusioned and stripped of their self-identity and dignity.
Families of ten or twelve people live in small huts packed closely together, exposed to unhygienic conditions, poor sanitation and little access to clean water; they rely on a monthly ration of food from the World Food Program, which sometimes does not arrive on time, or at all due to the security risks. Most children do not go to school, either because of the dangers of travelling outside the camps or due to lack of funds. As a result they are left confined to the camps with nothing to do, and vulnerable to disease and malnutrition. In addition to this, IDPs face the risk of attack by the rebels and other unruly elements; they complain that they do not feel “protected” as there are so few UPDF or LDUs securing the camps, and rebels are at times able to move around freely, stealing food packages from WFP at will as they arrive. The camps have become increasingly lawless, and residents are agitated by the perceived failure of the Government to address their needs and to find a viable solution to the desperate situation they have been forced into.
The stories of some of the internally displaced are told in this newsletter, and include extracts from the research carried out by the editor in October 2003. Civilians continue to wait for some positive action to be undertaken which would ensure a permanent return to their villages. The Government has devised a draft IDP policy, which it claims will “protect Ugandan citizens against displacement and protect and assist IDPs during displacement, return, resettlement or local integration.” However, implementation has been repeatedly stalled, and the policy has been widely criticised for failing to address the long-term needs of the IDPs, or the requirements to ensure their safe and speedy return to their homes. The delay in putting the draft policy before Cabinet merely suggests a lack of will to regard the plight of the internally displaced as an urgent issue which needs to be addressed before, during and after any solution to the conflict in Northern Uganda. Recent announcements by the President that IDPs could return to their homes, and by the Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees that camps throughout Northern Uganda would be dismantled this year, only serve to raise false hopes without giving any clear commitment to ending the conflict peacefully and ensuring the safe resettlement of victims of the war.
Donor groups continue to pump aid into the IDP camps. However, while short-term humanitarian assistance to relieve the immediate suffering of the people in the camps is essential, this must only be implemented as a temporary measure, in order to avoid the risk of institutionalising the IDP camps. The people there do not want to be brought up on WFP food rations; the overwhelming majority want to go back to their own homes, where they can regain control of their lives and fend for themselves and their families. Every passing day in the camps brings with it the risks of permanent damage to the communities and a growing, and despised, dependency culture.
Whilst the war continues, civilians in the camps will continue to be vulnerable to acts of violence such as rape and abductions, as well as disease, malnutrition, poor education and a corrosion of the social fabric of the communities. They are the real victims of the conflict, and therefore it is paramount that their voices are heard. The solution is not a protracted IDP policy; only a comprehensive peace settlement between the government and the LRA, resulting in lasting peace, security and stability, can bring a definitive end to the appalling conditions within the camps and the disillusionment and despair felt by their residents. We therefore hope that Government will focus its energies into dialogue with the rebels, leading to an all-embracing peace plan, as only this can ensure the safe return of the country’s citizens to a peaceful, meaningful and secure life.
The following are extracts from group interviews conducted by the editor, on a food distribution trip with World Food Program, at Koch Goma and Onyama camps in Gulu in October 2003. The participants were residents and camp leaders, mostly men, as the women were collecting food items from WFP. It has been noted down whether the respondents were Male (M) or Female (F).
1. Camp leaders and residents of Koch Goma IDP camp, Gulu
When was the camp
established and why did you come here?
M: Also I came here in ’96. We were forced by government to come here. There was insecurity where I came from – abduction of children and adults – but I had not decided to move here. Government told us. The main problem I face is I can’t pay for my children to go to secondary school. We receive food, but it is always the same so our diet is not good. We complain about the flour for porridge; it is without sugar, which children won’t take. We come without blankets and warm clothes and it is now cold.
M: For me, there is no land for cultivation in the camps. We depend on the food from WFP. If there is no food distribution, there is a problem. The school feeding programme is good; it should be encouraged so that the children stay in school.
F: The same problems are for women; the main one is food. If you go back to your place of origin for food, you might be killed. It is also a problem getting hold of money.
Is security at the
Who ensures security
when the rebels come?
Is the security enough?
When will it be safe
to leave the camps and go back home?
M: We have no idea when; it is upon God now. It will be when there is no more rebel activity, but we don’t know when that will be.
Why does the war continue
and not end?
M: It’s like a competition. The rebels are competing; everyone wants to achieve their goals. This is why the war continues.
M: If a different body, like the UN, could come in to put these people together, then there might be peace. At the moment there is no one to do that.
F: There is an amnesty for those who surrender. Unless it is given to those who don’t surrender and the rebels know this, they won’t give up. People need to be told about it.
What is the message
we should give to the international community about what should be done
about the war?
M: The war has gone
on since ’86. The government has talked about peace talks, but Kony
won’t come out of the bush and the government troops won’t
go to the bush, so the UN forces should mediate like they do in other
countries. Peace will never happen otherwise, even if Museveni says he
wants talks, as they won’t go to the bush.
M: If two brothers are fighting, the two won’t say “stop, let’s have dialogue”. It needs a mediator for that. The mediator should come in and encourage talk. The neighbouring countries should come here and bring Museveni and Kony away to talk, not bring troops. Kony thinks if he comes out of the bush to talk, Museveni will say he has been defeated. Museveni also thinks that he will have been defeated; that is why a mediator is needed.
2. Local councillors, cultural leaders and residents of Onyama camp, Gulu
Why did you come to
M: There is sickness and no proper medical health centres.
M: We have only 2 bore-holes for the whole population, which is not enough.
F: The women find it so difficult. Food is inadequate, we have no gardens and not enough clothes for our children. We are not allowed by law to sell the food. We can’t anyway because it is not enough for the family.
M: These soldiers are divided. During school holidays, they are sent to work in other places. Very few are in the camps, especially in the evenings. So the rebels come. The army is here only to guard the schools.
F: The rebels know when the World Food Program is coming. They come and collect food and go with it. It is very common in some areas. They come at night and the very owner of the food must carry for them.
F: When we are given food, we need eating utensils, cooking utensils and blankets.
M: If possible, names should be corrected. Others are not there. The camp leader is not around because people point fingers at him as he writes names, yet they don’t get food. Another problem is the soldiers are moved from the detaches, so rebels come straight away to the camp.
Do they come often?
How do you feel about
M: Since they have tried amnesty in vain, what does the government think of the camp people? Government should try to stop the war. The people in the camps feel they are in exile. This war has taken nearly 18 years, it may take more than that. Government should try other ways of stopping the war.
How? What ways?
M: If WFP also give hoes so we can dig gardens for payment, it would raise financial assistance for us. We can be paid for digging as an extra income.
M: When we came in ’96, Red Cross gave hoes and seeds for onions, tomatoes, cabbages – as we had small plots for planting. WFP could try hard to bring these things, as it would bring benefit to us.
M: We have a lot of
orphans; if NGOs could provide us with clothing for dressing children,
that would be good. Catering for these children on top of our own when
we have no income is quite difficult.
Below are extracts
from a compilation of articles on Awer Camp, Gulu, edited by Abiodun Onadipe
of Conciliation Resources, July 2000. For the full publication, please
contact the editor at:
A. The Agony Of A Displaced Person
Jasinta Adon, 28, a mother of six children is among thousands of displaced people living in Awer protected camp, 18 kilometres west of Gulu, in Kilak County, Lamogi division. Like many others, Jasinta had to leave her home village for a new environment, where there is no food, shelter or bedding after losing all her possessions to the rebel Lord’s resistance Army (LRA). Here, she narrates her story.
Everything was going on well in our family for the past seven years we had been married. We had been blessed with six children. On the unfortunate night of April 14, 1997, we had our evening meal early enough and began chatting around the fire we made in the middle of the compound. At around 10 p.m., we saw bright flashing lights coming at us from all corners of the compound.
I heard a deep voice ordering us all to stand up. My husband asked them why we should obey and who they were to make such demands in our house. But before they replied, I knew they were LRA rebels. They had finally attacked our village, Jimo, some three kilometres from Awer camp.
Few minutes later, I saw my two granaries, filled to the brim with grains from the previous harvest, being set on fire. Four of the men grabbed hold of my husband, Joseph Mwaka, and tied him to a row of four men. I did not know that these were abductees from another village. We were forced to lie down with six gunmen guarding us.
Meanwhile another group entered our house and removed the beans, maize flour and clothes as well as cooking utensils from various parts of the house. A few minutes later our house was set alight. I went into shock as hopes for our survival went up in flames with the house. I managed to tie my six-month old baby on my back before we were led away by the rebels.
We – my husband, the children and myself - were then forced to carry the rebels’ loot for about four kilometres into the forest. There they released the children and myself but not my husband. The loot we were carrying was share among other abductees, including my husband, who continued the journey into the unknown.
As we started walking back, my husband cried for help and his captors just started beating him. We walked all through the night and got home early the next morning. The children were crying because they were cold and there was no blanket. We also had no house to stay in, no food to eat. At this point, most of the villagers had fled to Awer camp.
The next thing that came to my mind was to follow suit. That same morning we made our way towards the camp. On the way, we came across a detachment of Uganda Peoples’ Defence Force (UPDF) soldiers heading towards the village. They claimed they were going to order people to vacate their homes in Jimo village because the rebels were expected to attack again.
At the camp, I met other people in similar conditions. I had no house and nothing to begin with and the children were hungry and crying for food. My eldest child was only 14 years old. A woman who had stayed in the camp for more than a month at that time gave us some cooked food. As the children were eating, I went looking for grass to thatch the house that we found empty. We have been living in the hut since. Life is difficult and we want this war to end so that we can return to Jimo village and our own home.
If the war ends, we will be able to lead a better life than we current have in the camp. At the camp, waiting for relief food, which comes once in a while, is a nasty experience. But during planting season, we walk to Pajimo digs and return to the camp. It is a difficult life for us mothers.
On the health front, the current situation is slightly better than it was a few months ago. CPAR, a local NGO, built a health centre in the camp where children are taken for treatment. The good part of my ordeal is that my husband joined the camp after only one week with the rebels. We have now erected two huts, one for the children and the other for ourselves.
Chris Osekeny Jamu
Victims of circumstances are compelled to endure hard life, untold suffering and death in a camp in Awer village, Palema parish, Lamogi Division, Kilak County in Gulu District, northern Uganda. About 11,500 people reside here.
They were prepared to tell it all as long as their names were withheld as they saw their existence as being very precarious. To them it was a matter of life and death.
They narrated their ordeals, beginning with the very soldiers of the Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) who were supposed to protect them. The soldiers were said to patrol the camp menacingly from 9 p.m., ordering residents to their huts. Those not in their huts are treated as rebels.
They said soldiers mistreated them and sometimes rape and defile housewives and girls. On occasions soldiers rape both mother and daughter while the husband/father is forced to watch. They must keep quiet about the atrocity or be killed. Majority of the residents bear the pain of such acts stoically, without reacting.
But a recent incident changed all that. While a soldier was raping a female resident, the family raised the alarm and the soldier fled into hiding. Conscious of the fact that the soldiers caught raping will be summarily court martialled or face a firing squad, the soldier refused to surrender himself for punishment. He preferred to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head.
These internally displaced people are suffering in the appalling conditions of a protected camp for a war that does not and will never benefit them individually. Many, especially the elderly who have no helpers or family, are dying of hunger, one by one. They are also subjected to poor health conditions, as there are no proper medical care, clean water and the camp’s sanitation is terrible.
The LC III chairman of Lamogi Division, Mr Walter Obwoya, said that the camp was created in 1996. The children in the camp are also benefiting from the Universal Primary Education (UPE). Two schools -- Jimo and Parabong primary schools -- are combined to provide tuition for children from primary one to seven in the camp.
The UPDF’s 4 Division Public Relations Officer (PRO), Lt. Khelil Magara, explained why residents of Lamogi Division were forced into camps. He revealed that the government had no alternative, as the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) under the command of Joseph Kony were using civilians as human shields, sources of information and logistics. Innocent people caught in the deadly crossfire of the conflict were either branded rebel collaborators by the soldiers or UPDF spies by the rebels.
An elderly man (Mzee), Amin Ochieng, who claimed to be the local coordinator for Dr. Nyeko Penmogi, Member of Parliament for Kilak County, said that although the World Food Programme supplies maize, it was not sufficient and regular enough.
LRA rebels recently abducted seven youths as they went out of the camp looking for food and firewood in the nearby villages. The abducted youths were named as Ongom George, aged 16, Oketta Denis, 14, Olweny David, 15, Okot Ayoli, 13, Ongaya Charles, 20, Lacere Emmanuel, 22 and Oryema James, 19.
Five of the abducted youths however managed to escape from the rebels and returned to the camp. Oketta Denis and Okot Ayoli are still missing and are feared dead.
Typically, it is the women and children that are the most affected by the life in the protected camp. They were either naked or in tattered and very dirty clothing. They were emaciated and looked weak.
Talib N. Tabuley and Anywar Godfrey
It was late afternoon on March 8, 2000 when we arrived in Lamogi sub-county headquarters of Kilak County, some 18 kilometres west of Gulu town.
Our fact-finding tour of the Awer protected camp for the war-affected people of Acholi had begun. We left our vehicles and faced hundreds of grief-stricken camp dwellers.
A group of women were dancing and singing as the group of 30 journalists from northern Uganda approached the camp square. We soon realised, on hearing the songs they were singing, that they were celebrating the International Women’s Day in their own way.
Seeing the multitude that had gathered in curiosity on our arrival, we wondered about the likely population of the camp. But everyone we approached was not certain of the actual figure. They asked us to see Obalim Benjamin, the camp’s chairman, who, we eventually learnt, was not within the camp at that time.
A foul smell hung over the camp, which pointed to severe water shortage. We approached a woman, who found our presence in the camp amusing, to help us understand the situation better. She offered to take us to one of the two wells, which were the only sources of water in the camp. A few minutes later, we were confronted with a stream of trickling brownish water, which collected in a shallow pond. Our guide, Christine Akumu, informed us that this was one of the main sources of water for the whole camp.
We discovered in the middle of the camp a borehole, which appeared to be out of service -- thorny bushes were gradually swallowing it up. In Uganda, the phrase “Water is life” is very common. The water situation in Awer camp leads one to conclude that it is a death camp.
This camp, with an estimated 1600 grass thatched huts, is home to 11,440 people, according to the Army’s 4th Division spokesman, Lt. Khelil Magara. He had earlier informed journalists that the displaced people were forced to flee their homes following raids by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). But the camp dwellers have a different version of events leading to the establishment of the camps. Many claim that the Army forcibly moved them into the camps.
When the Army PRO revealed that there were 20 similar protected camps in Gulu district alone; one could not help imagining the situation in these other camps going by the pathetic scenes in Awer.
Although the UN World Food Programme (WFP) appears to be the camp’s main lifeline, most people interviewed complained of inadequate and uneven food distribution methods. David Ochaya, one of those interviewed, accused the camp chairman, Obalim Benjamin of being discriminatory: “He is a segregationist.”
“We are living at the mercy of God, our situation is continuously worsening,” a resident, William Oketch said, summing up the situation in the camp.
A nurse at the camp’s health centre, who simply gave her name as Harriet, said that malaria was the camp’s most common ailment. She prayed for a delay in the onset of the rains, which she termed “heaven-sent genocide” because of the possibility of an outbreak of cholera in the camp.
Soroti district councillors have opposed President Museveni’s move to return the war displaced in Teso to their homes. The councillors said marauding bands of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army were still roaming the villages.
In his New Year message to the nation, Mr. Museveni declared the LRA war in Teso over and said the displaced people can return home. On January 4, his press aide Onapito Ekomoloit repeated the President’s remarks on local FM radios that people should return home because the war was over.
However, addressing the Soroti District Council meeting on Monday, Speaker Francis Akura said it would be a mistake to take people back to the villages because of suspected rebel presence. He said that even if the rebels had been flushed out, there would still be a problem of landmines planted by the LRA. “Let us not hurry to take people back to the villages,” he said.
The councillor representing Tubur sub-county, Mr. Charles Elasu, asked the internally displaced persons to ignore the call to return home. “I have told my people never to listen to the voice of anyone in the country on the LRA until God tells them to return to the villages,” Elasu said. The Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Musa Ecweru, said that nobody would be forced to return to the villages until total security is restored.
The Ugandan government is ready to resettle the people displaced by the fighting in the northern and eastern regions, a senior official has said.
"As soon as the security situation improves in these regions, people would be resettled back in their homes," First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Moses Ali was quoted by local daily The Monitor on Wednesday.
Ali told a select committee looking into the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn areas at a meeting that a draft policy on internally displaced persons would soon be submitted to cabinet for approval.
Meanwhile, Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Christine Amongin told the meeting that the ministry would give some 22,000 households seeds to plant as part of the resettlement effort.
"This year we plan to get rid of all these camps in Teso ( eastern Uganda) and Lango and Acholi (northern Uganda)," she said.
About 1.3 million people in northern and eastern Uganda have been displaced by the Lord's Resistance Army rebels in their 18- year rebellions.
2. Global IDP Database:
3. IRIN Web Special
on Internal Displacement:
4. Human Rights Watch:
5. Refugee Law Project
Working Paper No.5:
Sunday 25th January,
1.30pm and 3.30pm:
Monday 26th January,
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