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Gov’t Eyes Pader to Accommodate More South Sudan Refugees

The development comes as Palabek Refugee Settlement in Lamwo District is running out of space to accommodate the surging population of refugees fleeing unrest from neighboring South Sudan.
Some of the Shops in Palabek Refugee settlement in Lamwo District.

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The Office of the Prime Minister-OPM has embarked on plans to open a new refugee settlement in Acol-pii, a former Internally Displaced People’s Camp in Pader District to accommodate more South Sudan refugees.

The development comes as Palabek Refugee Settlement in Lamwo District is running out of space to host the surging population of refugees fleeing military unrest in neighboring South Sudan.

Officially opened in April 2017 at the height of renewed violence in Africa’s youngest nation, Palabek Refugee settlement sits on a 50 square miles piece of land and is now home to some 58,000 South Sudan refugees.

Axel Okurut, the Assistant Settlement Commandant at Palabek Refugee Settlement Camp told URN in an interview that the refugee settlement was initially opened to accommodate a maximum of 60,000 refugees.

This was after an expansion from the 40,000 refugees’ capacity it was meant to host at its initial opening in April 2017.

Okurut notes that with only 2,000 refugees left to hit the maximum capacity, OPM has moved in quickly to verify its land in Acol-Pii in Pader Sub-county, some 18 kilometers away from Pader Town Council for its suitability in hosting South Sudan refugees.

Acol-pii was one of the largest IDPs and hosted close 20,000 South Sudan refugees before its closure in 2002 after a brutal raid by Lord Resistance Army rebels that left 60 refugees dead.

Okurut says a team of OPM officials and the humanitarian agency UNHCR made a tour of the site recently for verification and found it suitable and spacious for hosting more refugees.

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He notes that development partners have already been given a hint on the new development but notes that discussions on when the center may been open for more refugees are ongoing at higher levels.

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Hillary Onek, the Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees also Lamwo County legislator confirms the development saying it is intended to avoid congestion since the land offered in Palabek is soon getting used up.

Onek says the settlement currently consists of a population of over 70,000 people with over 57,000 being South Sudan refugees and the rest the host community.

“In Palabek, the population is about 70,000 to 80,000 and the refugees have gone up to about over 57,000, so we intended to limit the number so that they (refugees) don’t over shadow the host population,” Onek told URN in a telephone interview on Monday.

Onek however says establishment of the settlement wont affect the fifth Division army headquarters at Acol-pii which partially sits on the land.

Pader Resident District Commissioner Dusman Okee says the move is welcome, adding that they will embrace the idea.

Recently, officials from Palabek revealed that more South Sudan refugees were taking illegal routes to cross into the country despite closure of the borders due to coronavirus disease. Ugandan borders have been closed since March last year to asylum seekers following outbreak of covid-19.

However, in Lamwo District alone, statistics from OPM indicates that between June to August this year, a total of 322 new arrivals of South Sudan refugees were registered at Palabek Refugee settlement.

Uganda is currently home to a total of 933,089 refugees from South Sudan as of September 30.

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