Inter - tribal conflict among refugees: The case of South Sudanese refugees in Boroli refugee settlement - Adjumani district, Northern Uganda
South Sudanese are fleeing from inter-tribal conflict in their country, but are finding themselves embroiled in another inter-ethnic conflict in exile. The Murles, an ethnic group mainly from Jonglei State in the Greater Upper Nile region of South Sudan sought refuge in Uganda before the escalation of the 2013 civil conflict in their country. Due to tribal wars (between the Dinka, Nuer and Murles), Murles elders approached the district officials in Adjumani District in June last year and requested that their children can be allowed to attend school. Their request was granted and subsequently, they settled in Boroli refugee settlement in Pakele Sub-county.
When armed confrontation broke out in December 2013 in South Sudan, the influx of refugees in Adjumani saw the Murle in the refugee settlement being joined by their countrymen mainly from Equatoria region. Significantly, the hosts belong to the same ethnic group as the Madi (they mainly occupy Central Equatoria) and can easily pass as South Sudanese. Some therefore took advantage of the situation, registered as refugees and joined the settlement. By mid-April 2014, Boroli refugee settlement had a total number of 5,650 refugees (3,123 female and 2,527 male), with 15 to 19 ethnic groups.
The role of ACORD Uganda in the Boroli arose from the Peace Building Project funded by Oxfam and implemented by Adjumani District Elders Forum (ADEFO), referred to as the peace team. In March 2014, the peace team went to Boroli settlement on a peace sensitization mission and to inform the refugee community of their aim and activities. One of the interventions involved the formation of peace committees in the settlement. The committees play a number of roles, including solving minor conflicts; counseling; promoting healing of broken relationships between the different ethnic groups; mediation; referrals; sharing information; organizing joint peace prayers; and organizing recreation activities (drama, sports and traditional music).
In the meeting, the refugees raised the issue of conflict in their community, resulting from inadequate water-points. They clarified that the fights were between women, the new arrivals and the people who settled in the camp earlier. Unfortunately, the fights took a tribal dimension pitching the Murle against the Madi. Additional problems faced in the camp were inadequate medical services, lack of educational opportunities for the children and insufficient quantities of food. The latter problem was blamed on irregularities in registration of the refugees and the distribution process. The refugees also claimed that members of the host community, who engaged in causal labor in the settlement, sometimes returned to steal their property. Overall, the Murles felt neglected; in their perception, the aid agencies were concentrating on Nyumanzi (where the Dinkasare settled).
The simmering tension culminated in violence following a visit by the District Police Commander . A bloody confrontation occurred on the evening of April 29 resulting in the death of a Murle who was allegedly beaten to death by the Madi. According to a member of the Peace Committee, the fight erupted from the video hall when a member of the host community stepped outside for a while only to return and find a Murle occupying his seat. A fight ensued between the two communities. Matters were aggravated by the late operation of the video hall, consumption of alcohol and under-currents of resentment about claims of citizens registered as refugees.
What the peace committee did
Some members of the peace committee were in the settlement and did the following:
- Calmed down some women who were prepared to flee to Adjumani town.
- Moved from door-to-door, stressing the importance of peace. The peace committee member involved is from Eastern Equatoria thus viewed as a neutral party.
- A member of the peace team from the Elders’ Forum addressed a group of visibly tense Murle youth on Tuesday afternoon during a joint visit by a team from ACORD/Oxfam and ADEFO. They managed to ease tensions.
- A member of the peace committee reminded the owner of the video hall about the tension in the camp, requesting him not to operate late in the evening. The same request was made to people responsible for the market.
- The peace committee and a member from the Elders’ forum participated in calming the Equatorians, including the Madi, during a visit by the Office of the Prime Minister .