In Photos: Daily Life in Uganda’s Refugee Settlements


Since July 2016, over 460,000 refugees have fled violence in South Sudan and entered Uganda. Girl Up visited refugee settlements in northern Uganda with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to learn more about their response to the refugee crisis and their programming for refugee girls’ education. While there, we met girls dedicated to education, who want the chance to learn and follow their dreams, but face big challenges in going to school. That is why Girl Up has partnered with UNHCR to raise funds and awareness for its work to help refugee girls in Uganda go to school. You can learn more in the photo essay below, and we hope you will join us to help more girls have the chance to get ahead.

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Photo: Edward Echwalu

A girl at Kuluba Transition Center holds water for her family as they wait for transport to a refugee settlement. Within 24 hours of crossing the border, refugees are registered by UNCHR and given a hot meal before being transported to a nearby settlement to begin rebuilding their lives again.

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Photo: Edward Echwalu

Fleeing violence in South Sudan, an average of 2,000 refugees per day have crossed the border into Uganda since mid-July.

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Photo: Edward Echwalu

“It took one week on foot to get to Uganda. Back in South Sudan, they told us they were coming for us and we had to go. We did not have time to take anything, just food,” said Pauline*, 15, who fled with her brothers and aunt. While hiding in the bush on the way, her two brothers were taken by soldiers. She doesn’t know if they are safe.

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Photo: Edward Echwalu

At the Goboro border entry point, UNHCR staff load luggage and belongings onto a transport truck to be taken to a settlement.

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Photo: Edward Echwalu

Girl Up Champion Cara Delevingne, walks with UNHCR spokesperson Charlie Yaxley along the river crossing that many refugees take to enter Uganda from South Sudan. In the dry season, the path is walkable, but in the rainy season, many people risk their lives to cross the river. Temporary bridges have been built at multiple entry points to help refugees cross safely.

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Photo: Edward Echwalu

Two young boys peek into a storage tent at the Busia border entry point.

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Photo: Edward Echwalu

Eva, 16, an eighth-grade student, stands in her classroom at a Pagirinya refugee settlement primary school. Eva’s favorite subject to study in school is social studies and she wants to become a teacher and return home to teach in South Sudan. Like many girls we talked to, Eva is concerned she won’t be able to attend secondary school next year without funding for school fees that cover books, a uniform, and a mattress to sleep on. “If I could go to secondary school, I would be able to help my family, help my father.”

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Photo: Edward Echwalu

Students at a Pagirinya settlement primary school are led in organized outdoor games by their teacher. Currently the school has 1,200 students, but needs resources to help it expand to 2,000 students next year. 

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Photo: Edward Echwalu

Friends Susan, 15, (left), and Rhoda, 15, pose in a classroom at a Pagirinya settlement primary school. Susan fled South Sudan with her family and wants to continue onto to secondary school and university to become a doctor. Rhoda, who had a primary school soccer scholarship back in South Sudan, plays on the Pagirinya boys soccer team and wants to be a professional soccer player when she’s older.

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Photo: Edward Echwalu

Students from a Bidibidi settlement primary school welcome visitors with a traditional bola dance.

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Photo: Edward Echwalu

Seventh-grade girls from a Nyumanzi refugee settlement school pose in front a sign in their schoolyard. Many girls drop out before secondary school due to family pressure to marry early. Some girls drop out because the closest secondary school is many kilometers away. The Adjumani region has 6,000 qualified secondary school-aged students because there aren’t enough schools, teachers, and resources to meet the influx of refugee students. “If a girl can’t go to school, her future is forced marriage. If you reach 15 years, they say you are old enough to go and get married. But without education, your future is poverty,” said Yara, 12, (third from right).

*Names of girls have been changed for their safety and security.