Since 2018, the Grassroots Reconciliation Group (GRG) has been working to support South Sudanese refugees in the Palabek Refugee Settlement of northern Uganda, where over 50,000 refugees are currently housed. This builds on our work of reconciling and rehabilitating former child soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and their war-affected communities in the region.
Why are refugees fleeing?
The conflict in South Sudan first began in 2013 between government and opposition forces. Despite subsequent peace agreements, violence and displacement have continued to spread across the country; civilians continue to be victims of violent targeted attacks, abduction, rape, torture, and dispossession, forcing them to flee for safety. Insecurity and displacement have destroyed livelihood opportunities and resulted in widespread food insecurity.
According the UNHCR, More than 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees and asylum-seekers have fled to neighboring countries, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, creating the largest refugee crisis in Africa and third largest in the world. According to UNHCR, 838,323 South Sudanese refugees have sought safety and refuge in northern Uganda, with nearly 50,000 settling in the Palabek Refugee Settlement in Lamwo District, where GRG is working.
GRG’s work with refugees
GRG is implementing innovative peacebuilding and socio-economic activities to promote social cohesion amongst the South Sudanese refugees and local host communities in northern Uganda. In the Palabek settlement, our peacebuilding and conflict management programs are part of the protection sector while our socio-economic activities are part of the livelihood sector.
Refugees often face food insecurity and limited opportunities for economic growth. Therefore, GRG’s livelihood activities including agricultural production, animal rearing and micro finance are all aimed at economically empowering refugees by building their skills, income potential, and resilience to economic shocks. By selling agricultural outputs and saving together in groups, refugees are not only able to support their families and purchase basic needs but also start new businesses or expand existing ones.
With increasing numbers of refugees arriving and settling in Lamwo District, conflict remains an ongoing concern due to severe resource constraints and ethnic tensions. GRG trains members of both the refugee and host communities in conflict management in order to equip them with the necessary skills to effectively address tensions in their respective communities. In addition, we conduct community peace dialogues and mediations to discuss and resolve disputes caused by limited resources, ethnic tensions, and domestic violence, among others.
Another powerful tool to foster positive engagement and communication between the two communities is community theatre. With a focus of hearing each other’s voices and understanding different perspectives, participants use song, dance and poems to highlight issues that they find important, such as domestic violence, ethnic tension, and alcohol abuse.
All of our peace building activities are rooted in a participatory approach that provides safe spaces for dialogue in order to build understanding and mutual trust among different groups. Our activities also aim to prevent new conflicts from erupting as refugees are being resettled in communities that are still recovering from the 2-decades long LRA insurgency. A unifying mantra for our group members is “together for peace”. While it’s unclear if hostilities in South Sudan will end anytime soon, refugees have stated that GRG’s group activities have helped them “forget bad experiences”, feel “strengthened”, and “get to know each other and be one as a family”.