Uganda + 1 more

Food Is Main Priority For New Arrivals In Uganda

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Palu (left), Safi and Safi's children. Below: Furaha and her children, and Palu in the registration line after his meal. © WFP/Lydia Wamala

When three Congolese asylum seekers arrive at a transit camp in Uganda, first things come first. At the transit camp and beyond, for as long as asylum seekers and refugees are not able to provide for themselves, WFP support remains important.

When Safi Janene and Palu Mumbere share a plate of hot cornmeal bread at Nyakabande transit centre, they look like husband and wife. Truth is, they just happen to have arrived together at the transit centre from the same region, Rutshuru, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Near Safi and Palu, on the same concrete verandah, sits Furaha Musibyimana who arrived with them. Furaha cuddles her new baby, Denise Nema, as she watches her two older children dig into their cornmeal.

Palu, Safi and Furaha have a choice – join the line straight away to register themselves and their children for refugee status, or eat first. They choose the latter, and start eating – food from a contribution by the United States government.

“Rebels were operating in my neighbourhood,” Safi says. “One night, three men speaking French, Lingala and Swahili attacked a home, killed two boys and seized property.I knew our lives were in danger. I left my house and my crops and fled with my two children; my husband went off with another woman.”

Spare pair of shoes

Palu, on the other hand, was drinking in a bar when a blast shattered its window, killing three people. He picked up a few clothes and a spare pair of shoes, and began the journey into Uganda. Speaking Swahili, he says he does not know where his wife and two children are.

Furaha does not speak much. All she tells is that at some point it became risky to stay in her village. She packed her children’s clothes and a few other items and came by truck to Uganda. Like Palu, Furaha does not know where her spouse is.

Growing food

As Safi rests on a grass patch next to the kitchen, her immediate desires are a pan to store the remainder of her meal, water to drink, and a tent in which to sleep – in that order. She says that, eventually, she would like to go back to growing food.

“My main concern is to have my children eat,” says Furaha.

“I feel lost being here at the transit centre,” says Palu. “I’m a farmer. That’s the life I’ve grown used to. I badly want to return to it.”

Palu says he grew cassava and beans before his garden was destroyed, around the time of the blast. WFP provides what amounts to a first full hot meal for most asylum seekers, while also treating clinical malnutrition. The food is helpful as most asylum seekers, arriving with children, are not in position to cook. The United States, Japan, United Kingdom, Brazil, Switzerland and the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund have been helping WFP support asylum seekers and refugees since 2012.