The archbishop of Gulu Diocese, John Baptist Odama, and South Sudan ambassador to Uganda, Simon Deng have urged South Sudanese refugees currently in Uganda to voluntarily return home and contribute to the social and economic development of their country.
According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), by the end of June 2023, Uganda was host to 1,561,634 refugees and asylum seekers. These include 923,658 from South Sudan, 505,738 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 51,845 from Somalia, 42,179 from Burundi, 41,732 from Eritrea and 23,468 from Rwanda, and others.
Odama said that in November 2023, cultural and religious leaders in Gulu met, discussed, and made conclusions to support the peace process in South Sudan.
“In my archdiocese, there are over 70,000 refugee settlements. We are concerned about peace all over the region. With the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we shall soon be engaging the President, Felix Tshisekedi. Whether in Sudan, Kenya, or Tanzania, there shouldn't be any fighting in East Africa. These are our brothers, and that is what we are all after,” he said.
He said that as people, especially from South Sudan continue to face the plight of war and continued tribal conflict, there is a need not only to provide services that enable them to live a life of dignity but also to engage key decision-makers to ensure that the message is passed on to the authorities of South Sudan.
"We are appealing to all South Sudanese who are in urban settings to voluntarily come back home and contribute to economic growth because there's been peace since the implementation of the peace agreement in 2018 up until now,” Deng said.
“The next challenge is the election, where South Sudanese will decide who to lead them for the next five years. And that will not be determined when people are not at home. They should come to register and vote. The government is doing everything possible to ensure this crucial step is undertaken in a free and fair manner in a very peaceful atmosphere,” he said.
Deng noted that when Uganda had instabilities in the 1970s and 1980s, there was brain drain where many Ugandan professionals went to the UK and the US, but with a return to stability, the exiled returned home.
He said, “The people of South Sudan advocate for peace to develop harmony among communities, and there is a need for continued dialogue, both cultural and religious, between South Sudanese and Ugandans. We appreciate the government of Uganda and the people of Uganda for the hospitality that has enabled many South Sudanese to call Uganda their second home."