Uganda: Refugees and host community learn together how to solve conflict
24 November 2017

Participants learned how to solve conflicts peacefully during the workshop (Jesuit Refugee Service)

Adjumani, 24 November 2017 - ‘[W]e need our community to transform and change to peaceful community where there should be no violent conflict’, says Bosco Geri, a 28 years old community leader in Pagirinya refugee settlement in Adjumani district, Northern Uganda. Bosco was one of the participants at a community peace facilitators workshop organized by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Pagirinya refugee settlement from the 23rd to 27th of October 2017. This was the first of a series of six workshops scheduled to take place in the six refugee settlements and the nearby host communities of Alere, Agojo, Ayilo, Boroli, Maaji and Pagirinya, following a joint baseline needs assessment done by JRS and FKYI (Friends of Kids and Youth International) in May 2017.

‘I came to attend this workshop so that I may gain knowledge and skills to be able to handle peace building in the settlement’, adds Bosco, echoing a sentiment shared by many of the participants for whom the motivation to attend the workshop was to be able to reduce conflict in their community and avoid violence altogether. The chairman of the Refugee Welfare Committee (RWC), Calistus Duku, saw the knowledge as instrumental in his work of administering the settlement.  ‘As knowledge and skills are power for our administration of the settlement, I should voluntarily attend the training so that I get the skills to manage our people’.  A similar view was expressed by Beatrice, the secretary of people with disability in Block F who doubles as a member of Village Health Team (VHT) who said, ‘…when I was informed that there was a workshop on peace building, I felt I should be a role model in our community.  After acquiring the knowledge from the workshop, I should be able to handle cases of violence in the community and also help people with cases of domestic violence.  We shall be working together with the team we are trained together’.

The workshop was facilitated by members of FKYI and attracted 60 participants; 45 from the refugee and 15 from the nearby host community. Those invited to the workshop were people in leadership positions like the Chairpersons of Refugee Welfare Committee (RWC), the chairman of the local Council One from the host community, women leaders, youth representatives from the host community and refugees, religious leaders and influential elders in the communities. The purpose of the workshop was to provide skills, competence and motivation for the leaders to promote peace and harmony in the refugee settlements and between the host community and the refugees.

Peaceful coexistence is a priority of the UNHCR and the government of Uganda through the coordination arm of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). Although 233,654 refugees have been settled in 19 settlements in Adjumani district, inter-ethnic conflicts among the South Sudanese refugees prevail, worsened by the scarcity of resources that complicates sharing of land and social services such as education, health, environment between refugees and host communities.

Pagirinya is one of the 19 settlements which is highly prone to conflict due to the fact that the different ethnic communities were already not in talking terms back home in South Sudan after years of a brutal war with tribal undertones. The settlement holds 31,000 refugees while the neighbouring host community village only has 613 people. These Ugandan nationals depend entirely on subsistent agriculture which is very susceptible to famine because of unpredictable weather conditions and wild animals, especially elephants, which routinely destroy their crops. And the refugees, apart from the meagre food ration, have little access to employment or land for farming which could supplement the handouts they receive from aid agencies like World Food Programme (WFP) which has adopted the cash for food (cash transfer) for refugees to find food in the local markets.

There are two factors of conflict which deserve attention. One is resource based conflict between the host community and refugees. The other is rampant domestic violence among the refugees fueled by poverty and power imbalance in the families between men and women. The host community and refugees trade accusations against each other. The host community accuses refugees for depleting the forest resources, over burdening social services in the area like education, health, infrastructure while refugees accuse the host community of being unreasonable and unsympathetic for their plight. They (refugees) argue they need firewood to cook their food and wood to construct shelters. Both of these are legitimate needs for their survival. 

At the domestic level, both in refugee settlements and host community, the main factor is a dispute over who has authority in the household. Upon arrival in Uganda, women were registered as heads of families.  When their male counterparts arrived later they became dependents. And some of the men refused to register with the UNHCR, thus eating the food ration of the other family members without contributing their own share. Moreover, men have lost their traditional role of providers for the family due to the war and women see their husbands as incapable of providing for the families in the traditional way.  This further erodes the authority of men and, compounded by heavy consumption of alcohol as coping mechanism in the settlements, results in rampant domestic and gender based violence. 

This workshop was the first step to engage community leaders to reflect on these issues and begin to work on resolving some of the conflicts. At the end of the workshop, six settlement blocks and the neighbouring village drew a three-month action plans to be implemented until March 2018.  In addition, the workshop received praise from both the participants and camp authorities working under OPM.  Florence is from the host community and works as a criminal intelligence officer within the Ugandan Police and she had this to say, ‘as host community, it is the first time we have been invited to attend a workshop in the refugee settlement; and the workshop is so interesting that we gained a lot of knowledge which we are going to take to our community’. A similar remark was made by the Pagirinya Camp Commandant saying, “there had been workshops on peace building by other agencies in the settlement but the host community has not been invited to attend. For the first time ever [this] JRS peace building workshop involved the host communities”. 

Gaining knowledge and skills was cited as the main reason most people wanted to attend the workshop. Given that these are leaders with various responsibilities, it may reflect their interest and commitment in doing their jobs. Consistent with their motivation to attend the workshop, most participants valued skills they learnt during the training. Among the most appreciated skills are conflict analysis using conflict mapping, problem tree analysis and conflict monitoring. Bosco stresses this saying, ‘I now have an idea of which communities are susceptible to violence in the settlement. There are some signals that show that there will be some violence within that community. Based on certain indicators one can know which community is more susceptible to violent conflict’. The RWC Chairman concurs saying, ‘I have learnt about communal violence and how to prevent it.  And I have learnt about conflict analysis and problem solving and conflict monitoring’. Beatrice singled out her understanding of connectors as what she gained in the workshop. She explained that ‘[t]he things connecting us are the schools; even if you are in bad terms, nonetheless your children still go to the same school. The market also connects us together, the health facilities and youth playing football together’. The people’s willingness to learn was amazing.

From observation, the participants were interested in the workshop as shown by their active participation.  Some positive changes could already be seen by the end of five days, visible in the body language of the participants. Some participants from the refugee settlements made friends with members of the host community and the latter promised them land for cultivation next season. In addition, the resulting friendly atmosphere meant that refugees were no longer worried about being prevented from cutting grass for thatching the roofs of their houses, an issue over which there was much anxiety.

 Fr. Kevin White SJ, JRS Uganda Country Director, and Mariana Morales from Entreculturas, made a follow up visit to Pagirinya refugee settlement on 16th November 2017. The two met with the participants of the peace building and reconciliation workshop. The participants emphasized the acquired knowledge and skills as the reason for their participation in workshop. They requested JRS to continue facilitating community dialogue for peaceful coexistence among refugees and between refugees and host communities.

Having developed their work plans, it remains to be seen how much success the participants will achieve in their implementations.

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