Uganda Solidarity Summit must prioritise South Sudanese child refugees
South Sudanese refugee children in the Bidi Bidi settlement in northern Uganda
World Vision ambassador Jerome Flynn says he is ‘changed forever’ after hearing heart-rending stories from war-scarred children in South Sudan.
Jerome met traumatised children last month on a fact-finding trip organised by international charity World Vision. South Sudan is the world’s youngest country, gaining independence in 2011. The East African country has been convulsed by a five-year long civil war which has killed at least 400,000 people. Over 19,000 children have been conscripted into various armed groups.
“Children told me about unimaginable horrors they had seen and experienced,” Jerome says. “Some children were kidnapped by armed groups and forced to fight and kill and watch other children get killed for not keeping up. Others fled torched homes and villages and sought refuge in camps for displaced people, with little food and no education. Many lost mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters and were forced to make choices no child should have to make, just to survive.
"I met families torn apart because of the conflict and talked to parents who had sons and daughters snatched from them,” he continued. At times I found their stories of what they had to endure almost too painful to bear.
“Yet I also saw hope in a country ripped apart by war. Dedicated World Vision aid workers are helping desperate families stitch their lives together amid the chaos. I was blown away by the resilience of the children, humbled by their spirit, and inspired by their determination to find happiness.
“I saw how war costs children their innocence but does not always destroy their childhoods. The bravery of the children I met will stay with me forever.”
Full-blown conflict is likely to flare up again in South Sudan unless a national army of government and rebel forces is formed by May 12. More children and young people could then be forced into the bush to take up arms or flee the fighting.
Jerome says: “South Sudan’s latest peace deal is on a short fuse and the situation is desperate. Help is needed urgently to protect children from further violence. Sadly, there are thousands of children across the world who need support right now. Please give generously to help them.”
Jerome’s trip forms part of World Vision’s Made for More appeal for funds to protect the world’s most vulnerable children.
World Vision is urging the international community to do more to prevent a children’s humanitarian crisis by supporting Uganda as it responds to those fleeing fighting in South Sudan.
The call for action comes as the UN and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni host the Uganda Solidarity Summit (22-23 June) as part of an effort to raise £6.3 billion and give the hidden crisis more visibility.
Around 60% of the more than 900,000 South Sudanese refugees who have fled to Uganda are children. Many are in great need, having experienced extreme brutality or seen loved ones killed. Scores of children arrive alone and live in extreme need every day.
World Vision’s response leader in Uganda said the summit was aimed at supporting Uganda which has one of the most progressive refugee hosting policies in the world but which was also struggling to cope with what was becoming a massive crisis for children.
“This summit is an amazing opportunity for the international community to abide by commitments it has made to share responsibility to host and care for refugees. If governments, humanitarian and development agencies and business leaders come together we can help children who have lost everything rebuild their lives and build a brighter future,” said Judy Moore, West Nile Refugee Response Director.
“We know from the Counting Pennies report that just 2 cents in every dollar of humanitarian aid goes to programmes targeted at protecting children from violence. Many vulnerable children I have met in Bidi Bidi have been terrified by what they have seen and are grieving the loss of parents and siblings. They need protection and support. This summit is an opportunity to prevent the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis becoming one where refugees face long-term need.”
Some 1.9 million South Sudanese have so far fled the country but the international aid response is only 16% funded.
“Uganda has is seen as a model refugee host nation because it welcomes and integrates refugees, allows them to stay, work and access education. Many ‘developed’ nations have constructed policies and barriers to actively keep refugees out. Uganda does not, but as a developing nation it does need international support to keep doing what is right,” said Ms. Moore.
More than 2,000 people have been crossing the border every day. World Vision staff working in the Bidi Bidi settlement are registering one hundred unaccompanied children every day, finding them foster families and providing follow-up care. Thousands of children have been found supportive homes with caring adults.
Children are also given places in “child friendly spaces” where they learn and play and where their emotional well-being can be monitored. So far, 52,000 children have accessed critical psycho-social support, but much more could be done with additional funding.