This year, in recognition of International Peace Day, we celebrate the theme Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace. When we speak about building blocks, it’s hard not to immediately think about children. Specifically, the millions of refugee children around the world currently displaced by war in places like Jordan, the Democratic Republic of Congo or South Sudan.
Within the first three weeks that followed a return to violence in South Sudan earlier this year, over 60,000 South Sudanese refugees fled to neighbouring countries in an effort to escape the conflict. As of August, numbers from the UNHCR document 61,488 refugees entering into Uganda, more than 85% of whom were women and children under the age of 18.
Experts estimate the arrival of over 150,000 South Sudanese refugees by December, adding to the global figures that make 2016 the worst year ever for displacement worldwide.
EMERGENCY RESPONSE IN NORTHERN UGANDA
In July, shortly after the surge of violence erupted in South Sudan, our Director of International Programs, Richard Corbridge, flew to Uganda to meet with War Child staff who had been recruited by the UNHCR to help identify cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) within the refugee and host community. War Child is a registered law firm in Uganda and provides free legal aid, including direct representation, to both refugees and members of the host community.
War Child staff members were also asked to play a key role as experts in child protection, handling cases of unaccompanied children entering reception centres, reunification where possible, and working in cooperation with the authorities to identify cases of violence between families.
Traveling from War Child’s office in Adjumani, Richard met up with War Child staff members near the border-town of Elegu, which sees 3-4K South Sudanese refugees make the daily crossing from South Sudan into northern Uganda, the majority of whom are women and children.
Upon entrance into Uganda, South Sudanese refugees are transported to reception, or registration, centres where they are permitted to remain for 24 hours before starting on the next leg of their journey. In collaboration with local police, War Child was charged with strengthening protection efforts in reception centres, ensuring that the rights of women and children were being upheld while their registration was being processed.
While many new arrivals cross freely into northern Uganda, others face lengthy delays. This includes refugees traveling with livestock and who are often held up at checkpoints where risk-analysis and transboundary animal disease control have been established to help curb the spread of cross-border disease (source: FAO).
Once admitted and registered, refugees are transported to a designated plot of land in a village that is integrated within the host community. This generous approach to refugee housing “enhances social cohesion and allows both refugees and host communities to live together peacefully” says the UNHCR. For refugees escaping both conflict and hunger, it’s an opportunity for a fresh start. According to IRIN News, 4.8 million people are currently facing severe food insecurity in South Sudan, many of whom have now left in search of livelihood elsewhere.
MEETING THE NEEDS OF REFUGEES AND HOST COMMUNITIES
In response to the influx of South Sudanese Refugees into northern Uganda, War Child’s Ugandan office will continue providing cross-border peacebuilding work involving members from both sides of the South Sudanese conflict as well as members of the host community.
From accelerated learning programs and temporary learning spaces for children to mobile legal aid clinics designed to reach survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in newly developed settlements, our comprehensive approach to programming gives children in war-affected communities the chance to reclaim their childhood and break the cycle of poverty and violence.