Ms Charity Ate, 32, a South Sudanese Refugee has lived in the World’s second biggest settlement, Bidibidi for four years.
Bidibidi settlement situated Yumbe district, North West of Uganda has over 270,000 South Sudan refugees who continue to flee from a deadly civil war that began in 2013 and escalated in 2016 to date.
For safety, Ms. Ate found sanctuary at Bidibidi with her family of eight people. She lives in Block A Tank in Yoyo village Zone 3.
But peace has been elusive since food insecurity has become a daily struggle.
The coronavirus disease disrupted employment and means of livelihoods forcing land owners from host communities to take back their land to earn from the land.
Most refugees hire or seek land for cultivation among host communities.
Without notice, the land owner took her one acre land given to help her farm to support her family.
“We had a verbal agreement with the land owner, that I use the land for planting food crops and on every harvest, I give him a portion of my harvest, and agreement I faithfully followed. But I was shocked when he came and took the land away without notice,” Ms Ate says with a weary face
Like most refugees who farmed to supplement the food aid agencies distribute, the bread winner was stranded.
“The land owner told me he doesn’t want to hire out his land out anymore. He would rather use it to farm and get food for his family,” Ms Ate explained with teary eyes.
Her family cannot afford decent three meals a day.
Her daily prayer is that peace returns to South Sudan, so she returns home where she has vast land for cultivation.
Mr Johnson Lomoro, 38, another South Sudanese refugee has lived in Zone 3 village 2 in the Bidibidi settlement for five years.
He was given one and a half acres of land by a Good Samaritan among the host community to use for farming.
His harvests supplemented the food aid he receives after every two months from aid agencies through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Program (WFP).
Last year, the WFP Country Director, Mr EL-Khadir Daloum, told Daily Monitor that “From April (2020), WFP will reduce both cash and food rations for refugees in all 13 settlements by 30 per cent because of insufficient funding. Refugees receiving food will continue to receive the food but it will be 5kg less (of cereals, beans and fortified vegetable cooking oil combined) than before. Refugees receiving cash will continue to receive cash reduced from Sh31, 000 to Sh22, 000 per person per month.”
With reduced food rations, the land which was their last resort for food supplements for refugees with larger families has been taken.
Mr Lomoro recently lost half of the one and half acres of land that had earlier been allocated to him by his kind hearted friend.
The land owner who he says had been economically struck by the hardship occasioned by the coronavirus disease disruptions started demanding for an annual fee of Shs60, 000 for him to continue cultivating the land or he gives it out to someone else who can afford to pay for the same piece of land.
Lomoro lost the land. He could not afford the Shs 60,000.
“The take away of that piece of land caused me a lot of heartaches and sleepless nights. As a bread winner, I had to figure out how I will fend for my family of 11 people,” Lomoro cried.
He says refugees` lives could be made better if access and use of land was formalized between the host communities, refugees and authorities.
He is hopeful that refugees could farm, realize yields for food and sell some parts of the produce to their nearest Yumbe Town which is about 14 kilometers away from his home.
Ms Zainabu Maneno, a member of the host community in Oyanga in Bidibidi gave about 41 acres of her land to refugees.
“The host communities thought by giving land to refugees for cultivation, there will be a form of support or compensation coming through, but when this didn’t happen, most of them started withdrawing it.” She explained.
Mambo Abdul, another member of the host community in Oyanga village instead asked the refugees to push for their land rights and proper documentations before they acquire them.
Jackline Ayeju, a refugee and also the Vice Chairperson, of Village 4 in Zone 3, Bidibidi settlement lives with a lot of anxiety and is in distress after witnessing land being taken away from refugees by the host community members that offer them the land.
“I still have the land given to me for cultivation by the host community. But I am not certain I will have them tomorrow because the land owners take them back at will,” Ayeju says.
During the Covid-19 period, at least six cases have been reported to her.
“The cases of land evictions are probably more than the reported six, as some refugees could choose to keep quiet and fight silent battles within their hearts,” she says.
Ayeju says as leaders in the refugee settlement, they had a meeting in February this year, with the host community leaders, to try and solve the challenge, but it did not yield much fruits, as land owners continue to take back their lands.
Sadia Diana the secretary nutrition and health in the Refugee Welfare Committees 3 (RWC3), says the few refugees that still have access to the land given to them by the host communities are asked to; pay a fee per season or year, give a portion of their harvest to the land owner or cultivate a separate piece of land for the owner.
Asiku Abdul Mutaliba, the Yumbe district chairperson who acknowledged the problems said that the local leaders plan to engage Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), UNHCR and land owners to find ways resolving the challenge in an amicable manner.
Filed with support from WANIFRA, Women in News (WiN).