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Children play in a camp in Uganda that humanitarian assistance agencies say is on the verge of a children's refugee crisis.

East Africa Grapples With a Children’s Refugee Crisis

By Still Hardy
Published June 26, 2017

South Sudanese refugees queues up for service in UgandaAs the World Refugee Day was marked on June 20, 2017, the focus was on black Africa‘s Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya where children from South Sudan continue to flee to in search of safety.

BBC Africa, that held special programmes to mark World Refugee Day 2017 reported that “Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than one in four of the world’s refugees – the largest number after the Middle East.”

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United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that “more than 1.8 million people”–among them more than 1000 children per day–have crossed into neighbouring Uganda and Ethiopia “since violence erupted in South Sudan in December 2013.”

More must be done in helping all uprooted children stay in school and stay healthy, and acting on the causes that force children to flee in the first place.In just a year, UNICEF said “the population of refugees in Uganda has more than doubled from 500,000 to more than 1.25 million, making Uganda now host to the fastest growing refugee emergency in the world.”

Terming it a ‘children’s refugee crisis’, Leila Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, noted that “More than one million children have been forced from their homes in South Sudan, often amid horrific violence. Day after day, week after week, they are being received by countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. Despite great efforts on many fronts, the systems in these countries are tremendously stretched.”

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Saying the Government of Uganda, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNICEF, World Food Programme of the United Nations (WFP) and other humanitarian partners on the ground are working tirelessly to respond to the more than 740,000 refugees who have arrived in Uganda since July 2016, UNICEF said that such dramatic numbers were placing excessive pressure on State and host community resources, especially social services that are critical to the wellbeing of children.

UNICEF in Uganda requires nearly US$50 million in 2017 as well as US$30 million in each year from 2018 to 2020 to provide critical health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education, early childhood development, adolescent development, and child protection interventions, to both refugee and host community children.“While refugee children in Uganda enjoy the full existing legal, physical and social protection system as the host population and use the same social services as them,” UNICEF observed, “more must be done to fully operationalize this agenda for action across the region, especially keeping families together, helping all uprooted children stay in school and stay healthy, and acting on the causes that force children to flee in the first place.”

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UNICEF made its appeal for assistance ahead of Uganda’s International Solidarity Summit on Refugees on June 22-23, 2017 that sought to raise US$2billion.

Children play in a camp in Uganda that humanitarian assistance agencies say is on the verge of a children's refugee crisis.The Government of Uganda and the United Nations are appealing for US$8 billion in funding for both emergency response and resilience interventions to Uganda’s refugee and refugee-hosting population over the next four years. Within this appeal, UNICEF in Uganda requires nearly US$50 million in 2017 as well as US$30 million in each year from 2018 to 2020 to provide critical health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education, early childhood development, adolescent development, and child protection interventions, to both refugee and host community children.

For Ethiopia and Kenya, as part of their Humanitarian Action for Children’s Appeal for Ethiopia and Kenya, UNICEF requires US$13.6 million to respond to the new influx of South Sudanese refugees in the Gambella Region of Ethiopia, and US$7.3 million for the refugee response in Kenya.

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Child refugees in a UNHCR camp in Uganda “The Ugandan Government has a progressive and generous open-door policy to refugees,” said Pakkala. “This approach provides better prospects for refugee children in Uganda than in many contexts globally. The very real hope is that such a model is supported widely across countries.”

UNICEF noted that 86% of all refugees in Uganda are women and children and Uganda has become “Africa’s leading refugee-hosting country, having jumped from the eighth largest refugee-hosting country in the world in mid-2016 to the third largest today, after Turkey and Pakistan.”

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