Social connections and displacement from South Sudan to Uganda: towards a relational understanding of survival during conflict

Elizabeth Stites*, Alex Humphrey, Roxani Krystalli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


South Sudanese fled their communities in large numbers following the outbreak of political violence in 2013, with an estimated 4.5 million forcibly displaced by mid-2018. Of neighbouring countries, Uganda hosts the greatest number of South Sudanese refugees. Based on qualitative data collected in 2018 and 2019 in two refugee settlements in the West Nile sub-region of Uganda, this article examines the social connectedness of refugees during their flight and after their arrival in Uganda. How do refugees rely on the new relationships they form during displacement, and in what ways do these relationships enhance our understanding of the role, forms, and importance of social connectedness during displacement? We analyse how social connections provide material and non-material support, how refugees use scarce resources to negotiate and cultivate social connections, and how gender and status influence inclusion and exclusion within social networks. We find that proximity and shared experience are the two most important factors in social connectedness following displacement and that non-material support plays a critical role in facilitating resilience. Collectively, these findings highlight the significance of a relational, rather than individualistic, approach to survival during displacement. In addition to the theoretical significance of these findings, and the contribution to the growing literature on social connectedness during armed conflict, this article is relevant to humanitarian decision-makers and practitioners who aim to craft programmes that support, rather than undermine, the coping strategies of displaced people.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2720–2739
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Refugee Studies
Issue number3
Early online date9 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


  • Social networks
  • South Sudan
  • Forced displacement
  • Uganda
  • Gender


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