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Uganda celebrates World Refugee Sabbath inside refugee settlement

Adventist Church leaders commend country of Uganda for opening their boarders to refugees.

Uganda celebrates World Refugee Sabbath inside refugee settlement

[Photo courtesy of the Uganda Union Mission]

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President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Uganda and Board Chairman for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Uganda, Daniel Matte, applauded the leadership of General Yoweri Museveni, president of the Republic of Uganda, for opening the borders of Uganda to those who have fled into the country.

Matte was speaking at a ceremony held during World Refugee Sabbath. The event was held in an unprecedented location—a refugee settlement. Matte was accompanied at the ceremony by the Ugandan Union Executive Secretary Israel Kafeero.

Themed “Celebrating Refugee Resilience and Living,” ADRA Uganda took the celebration to Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement in the Western Uganda district of Kamwenge, about 300km (186 miles) from the country’s capital, Kampala. 

Matte thanked ADRA Uganda for representing the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the critical ministry of caring for the refugees. 

Preaching from the book of Lamentations written, by prophet Isaiah in 586 BC when Israelites were invaded and taken to captivity in Babylonians, he consoled the refugees that being a refugee is as old as humanity itself. While he understood the refugees’ pain, he comforted them by saying their pain should lead them to seek God, who alone can give hope.

During the program a few refugees gave testimonies of their journey from their countries of origin to Uganda, where they are now settled.

The Commissioner for Refugees in the Office of the Prime Minister, Gerald Menya, who is an Adventist, said Uganda’s history of refugee hospitality stretches back to 1940, during World War II, when 80,000 Polish refugees came and settled in districts of Masaka and Masindi.

Uganda ranks first in Africa as a host to refugees with more than 1,254,000 refugees from 30 nationalities. Menya said the high number of refugees in Uganda owes to the country’s open door policy, which makes it a friendly place for refugees. 

In Uganda, refugees are held in settlements, as opposed to encampments where refugees are more restricted. In the settlements, the refugees are able to walk in and out freely integrating with their local community. This, he says has given human dignity to them.

Menya praised ADRA Uganda for the outstanding contribution in addressing the plight of refugees, observing that out of the 162 partners involved in the refugee care in Uganda, ADRA is the first to build an ultra-modern hospital inside a refugee settlement. 

The hospital is being constructed at Kyaka II Refugee settlement and is part of a partnership between Adventist Help and ADRA in Uganda.  Adventist Help’s team in Uganda is headed by Dr. Michael John von-Hörsten, who also attended the World Refugee Sabbath in Rwamwanja.

This year, in Uganda, 2019 International World Refugees day will be marked with tree planting. It is estimated that more than 58 percent of the vegetation in the country has been destroyed by the construction of refugee settlements. During his speech, Menya made a call for people to turn com and plant trees as a way of environmental restoration.

In addition to leadership from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Uganda, leaders from ADRA Uganda and ADRA Malawi, the Refugee Sabbath ceremony was also attended by UNHCR Representative Hilary Agwe and World Food Program Representative Patrick Ebong. Long standing humanitarian with ADRA Uganda, Booker Ajuaga, also attended the fete.

According to the church leader in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement Sam Twesigye, out of 2,000 of the 65,000 refugees in the settlement are Seventh-day Adventists. However the settlement lacks schools and health facilities fitting the needs of Adventists in the camp. There is also a dire need for a church construction where the 2,000 members can worship.