Children now make up more than 60 percent of the one million South Sudanese refugees who have fled violence for neighboring countries like Uganda, United Nations and government officials have said. Over 85 percent of these refugees are comprised of women and children.
Among the children under 18 are 75,000 individuals who are on their own in Uganda and other countries and separated from their families or sent by their parents, the United Nations refugee agency said. Aid workers told the Associated Press that children are reunited with families or matched with foster families. But when children don’t have parents, they could be subject to exploitation.
“My father was shot in the war,” a 16-year-old boy who takes care of his younger sibling told the publication. The two brothers fled to Uganda after seeing their father’s body on a street. When they arrived in the country, the U.N. refugee agency took them in. “And then my mother, I don’t know where she went.”
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, gained independence from Sudan in 2011, but has been locked in a deadly, four-year civil war following a political face-off between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar in 2013. The war has since displaced about two million people within South Sudan. Another 2.5 million people have fled to neighboring countries. A famine within South Sudan last year left seven million people in need of humanitarian and protection assistance, according to the U.N., with 5.3 million people facing “Crisis and Emergency,” or the highest level of food insecurity.
Peace-building talks between South Sudan and Sudan will take place on April 26 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with regional government officials urging a political compromise. The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan Alain Noudehou has said that people, particularly women, need to feel secure before they are able to go back to their homes.
“If they are not a part of the dialogue of peace-making, we will be missing a tremendous perspective of what it’s going to take to make the peace much more lasting in [the country],” Noudehou said, pointing out that women are important in both defining and implementing the peace agreement.
At the moment, Uganda has quickly become the third largest refugee-hosting country in the world, after Turkey and Pakistan. Not only is the country home to more than one million South Sudanese people, but it’s also home to more than 275,000 Congolese refugees, 40,500 from Burundi, and 37,100 from Somalia. By March, Uganda saw a daily average of 191 South Sudanese refugees and 683 from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Support for refugees in Uganda appears to be limited. At one Ugandan refugee settlement, six case workers service 78,000 children. And it may be possible that support for refugee children may evaporate in the future. Ugandan officials were found to have “grossly inflated” the number of refugees by nearly four times the 6,970 occupants accounted for by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agency.
Beyond South Sudan, more than half of all school-age refugees do not have access to school and very few humanitarian aid dollars are spent on education. And refugee girls are generally more disadvantaged because they’re less likely to enroll in school than their male peers.