Elegu, is reminiscent of a Clint Eastwood western and brings a new meaning to the phrase “dusty border town”. It looks like a town from the old west. In fact a year ago it was a marsh that fed the Onyama River. When the border crossing was moved from Bibia to Elegu on the Onyama River a town was born.
Elegu Border Crossing for South Sudanese Refugees
The first permanent structure you see when crossing the river into Uganda has a huge Lutheran World Federation sign on it. This is the first point of relief for South Sudanese fleeing war in their homeland. Many arrive after being literally on the run for six or seven days. Many had to leave in such a hurry that not all family members could be gathered together.
Here, the LWF staff carefully document the refugees, make sure any emergency medical needs are met, and provide them shelter and food before they are transported to one of the Adjumani refugee settlements. 80,000 have come through this spot since last November and while the daily numbers are less than they once were, there are always more coming.
We sat with some of these families on plastic sheets on the floor of a large tent where the families were housed when they arrive at Elegu. All of the families we talked to had left loved ones behind. None of them had more than one or two plastic bags of belongings. Children were clearly malnourished.
Here, as reported by journalist Grace Natabaalo is just one of tens of thousands of stories from this conflict. “Akech Garang wears an expressionless face. She is drained and worn out. She has not seen her two children, two girls aged 12 and 13, and their father since the fighting broke out in South Sudan in mid December.
“It was about 3 am. We were trying to escape. We were walking and running. There were too many people fleeing. At first, we moved together but then they disappeared. I lost my two children that night,” she explained. As she talks, her eyes dart around, hoping to spot them in the crowded refugee transit centre in Elegu, Northern Uganda, where she just arrived after a two-week journey.
“I cried for a long time,” she said, now she just looks exhausted.”
Parked beside the LWF office is a sturdy and well-used bus. Soon the people we met will be transported to another reception center at Nyumanzi settlement. They will wait there until a plot of land has been cleared for them and a hut built. They will receive a variety of household items, sanitation supplies, tools to cultivate gardens, clothing and rations. A new life will begin.
In fact, just as we left Nyumanzi in the late afternoon of the same day, we met that bus and the people we had seen in Elegu on their way to new beginnings!
Tom Brook – Community Relations Director, Canadian Lutheran World Relief