ref·u·gee - noun

a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.


We hear so much about refugees and how they are entering into a country. But what does that process actually look like?

I was granted the opportunity to see this process in action. I went to one of the entry points along the South Sudanese/Ugandan border. Now, this entry point was not a large area. It was just a simple bridge crossing a small river that separates the two countries. Both sides of the river have a small camp for the soldiers. On the South Sudanese side, there was a rebel camp and on the Ugandan side, there were the government soldiers. Once a refugee enters Uganda, the soldiers at the border check them to make sure that they aren’t bringing anything illegal into the country. After they check, the soldiers call the closest reception center to ask for a van to come and pick up the people up if they’ve walked.

At the reception center, the refugees are given 10 to 15 minutes to collect themselves, then they must wash their hands. Hand-washing is incredibly important to stop the spread of disease. After their hands are washed, the reception center employees screen the refugees to learn what tribe they are from, what caused them to flee, and if they have any family who may also be refugees that came before them. These questions help the reception center figure out what resources an individual might need. The individuals are given a colored wristband so the reception center staff can easily identify who needs the most help. Individuals needing the most assistance would be people who are sick, unaccompanied minors and soldiers who have deserted.

Biometric screening at the collection point to see if someone has already been registered as a refugee.

Biometric screening at the collection point to see if someone has already been registered as a refugee.

The refugees stay at the reception center for between 1-3 weeks so the government and NGOs that work at the border are able to help place them with their families. After they leave the reception center at the border, they are taken to another reception center at the specific camp where they will be resettled. The refugees then go through the same process at the second reception center before they are resettled into the camp.

-Jessica Firestone