YUMBE. It’s been four eventful years since South Sudanese refugees were received in the vast Bidi Bidi settlement in Yumbe district.

The emergency period was a bed of thorns for partners and the refugees, besides the obvious difficulties associated with wars, the locals’ misunderstanding of the arrival of the refugees compounded the problem.

Sections of the population particularly the youth were in arms with the implementing partners over the recruitment processes which they said didn't favour them. As a result, some of the disgruntled groups resorted to physical confrontations, property including vehicles, computers, and sign posts among others were vandalised.

Fast forward to 2020, this cat and mouse relationship has drastically faded, the relationship is now casual and some members of the host community are now more open to the refugees staying with them.

Ms Nafisi Samusa, 36, a resident of Luzira village in Romogi Sub County where Bidibidi zone one settlement is located is pleased with the magnitude of support and development that has taken place within the settlement and the host community during the time of the refugees.

"We had been experiencing a lot of hunger in our area but since the coming of refugees in 2016 up to now, the problem of hunger in the district has reduced a lot. We buy food from the refugees which is helping us a lot", she says.

Indeed on occasions, some of the refugees have confessed to selling part of their food rations to get other necessities that are not provided by the aid agencies.

Samusa says the refugee’s presence has provided a ready market for the host community, produce like vegetables have market in the settlements.

She says since the misunderstandings stopped, a cordial relation has developed and the refugees are now seen in the communities as brothers and sisters and many benefits have also accrued to the host community over time.

"Our youth got employment opportunities and this has now transformed many families in the community; some bought plots, built houses, opened up businesses, stocked animals and generally, there is a lot of change in the families in the host community as compared to the past when the refugees were not here", she asserts.

Ms MusaMs Nafisi Samusa speaking during the interview

Mr Salim Andiga, 72, is one of the landlords who agreed to offer land for the refugees free of charge culminating into the settlement of the refugees in the five sub-counties in Yumbe district.

He says their decision to offer free land to the refugees stems back to the days of political instability in Uganda when the populace had to take refuge in South Sudan.

He also asserts that reciprocating the good gesture is a way of strengthening an already good relationship because “you never know what might happen in future”.

"The pieces of land where the refugees have settled were bushy and grounds for wild animals which destroyed people's crops but now, these areas appear to be towns because of the structural developments like schools, health centres, roads and the extension of power to the settlement", he says.

"We had been hearing about other services but I am proud that because of hosting refugees, those are the benefits we have received”, he adds.

He says the services offered to the community so much outweigh what the money would have done if the land were hired or directly sold out.

Andiga appeals to aid agencies and the Ugandan government to consider the district as home to any refugees’ in the future after current batch have repatriated. He advises the refugees meanwhile to be patient because the situation in South Sudan is still volatile.

However, despite the numerous benefits, concerns over the state of the environment are growing by the day due to the impact of mass settlement.

Locals have appealed to office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and the implementing partners in the environment department to address the matter by planting more trees to fill the gap.

Mr Salim AndigaMr Salim Andiga one of the landlords who contributed in offering land

Mr Yassin Taban, the Yumbe district chairperson concurs with the notion of accelerated development saying a number of projects have been undertaken during the four-year period some which he admits “could have taken the district a number of years to achieve due to meagre local government funding”.

"Some of our people were doing a lot of things contrary to hosting refugees but they have seen overtime that hosting refugees could be a curse as well as a blessing”

"With all the different projects being implemented, conflicts are getting down which means the projects are creating an impact in the minds of the people", he adds.

Bidibidi settlement hosts about 231,000 refugees in the five zones of Romogi, Kochi, Kululu, Odravu and Ariwa sub-counties.