SOUTH SUDAN-UGANDA: Economic migrants battle xenophobia
JUBA/KAMPALA, 31 January 2012 (IRIN) - Petty traders from Uganda, South
Sudan's largest trading partner, crowd into Konyo Konyo market in Juba
selling used clothes, vegetables and household wares. Lacking economic
prospects at home, they come in the hope of finding better opportunities in
Juba's booming post-war economy.
There are about one million Ugandans living in South Sudan, according to the
Kampala City Traders' Association (KACITA). But life is not easy for the
Ugandan traders who supply South Sudan with many essential goods.
On a side road at the market, a Southern Sudanese policeman wearing orange
fatigues strikes a passing Ugandan with his rubber whip a few times,
seemingly without any provocation. The Ugandan winces and then continues on
Watching the incident from a small Ugandan-owned restaurant in the market,
Ugandan migrants say such incidents - and much worse - are not uncommon.
They say they have been beaten, arrested without cause and faced a plethora
of other forms of harassment by Southern Sudanese security forces.
Hassan has been living in Juba for three years, selling used clothes. He has
lost count of the number of times he has been beaten by security forces.
"They come and ask you where your immigration [papers] are, and even if you
have [them], they take you to the police without any [reason]. They beat you
and tell you, 'Bring money!'"
Just that day, says Hassan, Southern Sudanese police tried to extort money
from him. "They beat me and they asked me, 'Where is your money? Why are you
working here, we don't want you to work here, go back to Uganda.'"
Suing the government
KACITA spokesman Issa Sekkito said he and the Ugandan Ministry of Trade had
compiled a list of more than 100 Ugandans claiming compensation from the
government of South Sudan for harassment, confiscation of goods and
property, failure of the government to pay for goods and services provided
and in some cases, injuries and loss of life.
"We talked about people drowned in the River Nile, killing, raping of women,
torture... Some people are lame now because of the problems they got. The
brutality in some cases left their lives unrecoverable." Ugandans are
seeking US$48 million in compensation from the government, he said.
Elizabeth Majok, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Commerce in South Sudan,
did not deny that such incidents may have occurred. But she said any
harassment faced by Ugandan traders was the result of misconduct by
individuals, and not institutional or systemic failure.
"You will not rule out one-to-one cases and this can happen even with
Southern Sudanese. But if there are thousands of Ugandans and one faces
certain incidents, which are isolated, it shouldn't be [taken] like it is
happening to everybody."
Majok said the Ugandans who came to South Sudan were met with generally
favourable business conditions and were not systemically discriminated
against. "The whole market is being controlled by foreigners, from retailers
to wholesalers to importers - everybody. And there is no discrimination.
They are being given licences like locals and being facilitated by the Bank
of Southern Sudan," she said.
But this is not the first time security forces in South Sudan have faced
allegations of human rights abuses against civilians. Boutros Biel, head of
the South Sudanese Human Rights Society for Advocacy, said he had recorded
incidents of killings, rapes, arbitrary arrest and torture.
"Generally, the security [forces'] behaviour is not only problematic to the
foreigners but to the nationals themselves," he said.
Biel said he believed that abuses by security forces stemmed from South
Sudan's history. Many of the security personnel in the new nation were
formerly soldiers in the rebel army that fought for liberation from the
North. "In the military background in the South, there was no mercy in
dealing with your enemies... A person with a gun was more powerful [than a
person without]," said Biel, explaining that many in the security forces
take advantage of that fact and violate the rights of civilians.
Though human rights violations by security forces in South Sudan may happen
to both foreigners and nationals, there is a strong undercurrent of
xenophobia against Ugandans, according to Fred Ssenoga, spokesman for Joint
Action for Redemption of Ugandan Traders in Sudan.
Ssenoga said that when intervening on behalf of Ugandan traders in Juba he
was often met with prejudice. "I go to the police and they say, 'If you had
not come here, would you have faced problems?'... When [Southern Sudanese]
see Ugandans participating in [the economy] they think they are taking over
However, despite this xenophobia and harassment, Ugandan migrants are likely
to keep going to South Sudan for the financial rewards. As Hassan, the
clothes vendor, said, "I get more money than those who stay [in Uganda]. I
have already built a big house in Uganda with the money I have got here."
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Received on Wed Feb 01 2012 - 16:48:26 EST