Amix of Afrobeat and South Sudanese folk music resounds over the jumbled stalls and makeshift corrugated iron shops that form the trading centre of Nyumanzi, a sprawling refugee settlement in northern Uganda.
The settlement is home to more than 20,000 men, women and children who have arrived from bordering South Sudan, the world’s newest country, where conditions have been compared to Rwanda in the run-up to the genocide.
People who now call Nyumanzi home talk of leaving behind hunger, torture, looting and killings. Boys were forcibly recruited to join the fighting, women and girls raped.
But in coming to Uganda, they have struck lucky. Almost 400,000 people have fled to the country since July when violence resumed in South Sudan. They are treated perhaps better than refugees anywhere in the world.
“I call Uganda my second home,” says Jacob Yout Achiek, 36, who fled the South Sudanese capital, Juba, in 2013 and now runs a grocery shop.
“The office of the [Ugandan] prime minister is like our government. If you have a problem, you call them and they will respond immediately.”
In the past, Ugandans have had to flee to other countries for their safety, says Godfrey Byaruhanga, co-ordinator of refugee services for the government. Now it their obligation to “return the good”.
“Most of our leaders have been refugees, so it has been easy for them to embrace this refugee policy,” he says.
This attitude is in contrast to other African countries struggling to cope with rising refugee numbers. In Kenya, home of the world’s largest and oldest refugee camp, Dadaab, refugees cannot legally work and their movements are limited. They also live under constant threat that the camp will close.
While the majority of refugees in Uganda are South Sudanese, another 300,000 are from Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Byaruhanga says refugees have the right to work and are entitled to the same social services as locals, including free primary education and healthcare.
They are given small plots to farm in settlements scattered across northern Uganda, which the government does not call camps to emphasise the freedom of movement refugees have – and that they are welcome to stay.
Amou Deng was pregnant with her fourth child when she left Bor, north of Juba, on foot in the rainy season. She does not know whether her husband is alive because they were separated in the 2013 conflict. In January 2014 she arrived in Nyumanzi.
Deng joined a farming group that provided funding and support to help her grow maize, beans and spinach. As well as “providing us with food, we can also sell some [vegetables] to get money for other needs,” she says.
Achiek also got help to start his shop, a loan of $570 (£465) from the Lutheran World Federation, which works with the UN refugee agency and others.
His shop is well stocked with South Sudanese products from newly arrived refugees and Ugandan traders brave enough to venture across the border. The grant helped the business develop, says Achiek. “It’s now worth 5m shillings [$1,430].”
Achiek has also gone back to school, joining his children at Nyumanzi primary. Abuni Samuel, one of Achiek’s Ugandan teachers, says refugees have become “like brothers” and helped business in the area.
A recent study by the UN World Food Programme concurs, pointing out that refugees “benefit those countries that welcome them and give them what they need to build new lives”.
But even a country with a stated open-door approach finds its key services stretched by the sheer number of new arrivals. About 80% of the pupils at the Nyumanzi primary school are refugees.
“They sleep three or four in a room … they can’t revise properly. Then we are teaching them in two classrooms – where they are over 70 – so class management becomes difficult,” says Samuel.
Winifred Kiiza, leader of the opposition in parliament, complains that classrooms are so packed that children struggle to learn. On a visit to the settlement she said some refugees had to return to South Sudan because there was not enough food in Uganda.
One local farmer, who did not want to give their name, is worried that there will not be any land left for Ugandans. The government has also been forced to cut food rations for those who arrived before 2015 and halve the size of farming plots due to demand.
Refugees also say there is no long-term plan for them. Deng says her land is not big enough to become self-sufficient but that she has no choice but to stay in Uganda. She has no husband and no home in South Sudan – only memories of fear.