A peek at daily life in northern Uganda’s refugee camps

I spent just a couple days tagging along to refugee camps with some of the fellows focusing on humanitarian issues, and what struck me the most was how much they function as small cities. An influx of South Sudanese refugees to Adjumani District led the World Food Programme to cut rations in half for people who entered the country more than a year ago. Cases of malnutrition are severe—seeing a reporter in a crowd, people would gather close, gesturing to their stomachs and pulling their skin to show how loose it had become.

South Sudanese refugees wait for their names to be called on food distribution day at Aiylo Camp.

But through the hunger and the trauma, you can also see signs of resilience.   

A boy wheels a handmade truck through the streets in Pagarinya Settlement.

There are several “settlements” in Adjumani district, and families are given a small plot of land to build their temporary home. Though some manage to carve out space to plant gardens to supplement their diet, a major concern among refugees is the lack of available land to farm.

Sweet potatoes grow in Pagarinya.

In each settlement, vendors set up a marketplace to sell their wares; fresh vegetables, dried fish, even a solar-powered cell phone charging station. Some entrepreneurs are refugees—others are Ugandan, who come into the camp from the surrounding neighborhoods.

A market in Aiylo Settlement.

There are also medical clinics, where the wait is long and electricity nonexistent. For more complicated medical issues, people must go to a hospital in the town of Adjumani, where they’ll have to pay for care. 

Children wait for a Medical Team International doctor to look over their records.

In journalism, we meet people, we hear about their suffering, and then we have to leave. We can publish a story and hope that things change for the better, but often it doesn’t. After one interview in Pagarinya, a man asked me what I could do for him. 

“Honestly,” I said, “All I can do is try to put this on the radio.“ 

Driving back to Gulu, that’s a tough fact to sit with. 

Durrie Bouscaren