The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says the situation has made South Sudan, Africa’s largest refugee crisis and the world’s third largest after Syria and Afghanistan, with less attention and chronic levels of underfunding.
A refugee is a displaced person who has been forced to cross national boundaries and who cannot return home safely. Such a person may be called an asylum seeker until granted refugee status by the contracting state or the UNHCR if they formally make a claim for asylum.
The lead international agency coordinating refugee protection is the United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United Nations have a second Office for refugees, which is the UNRWA. This however is solely responsible for supporting Palestinian refugees.
The vast majority of refugees are women and children, with over a quarter of a million people ending up at the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, the world’s largest, near the town of Yumbe in northern Uganda.
Raising alarm over the plight of refugees, in particular the situation of women and children, arriving in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya having fled violence and instability in South Sudan, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called on governments to do more to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected.
The Ugandan government is maintaining an open door refugee policy and is also giving people plots of land to cultivate. Over 60,000 km2 has been handed out in Bidi Bidi alone, with the blessing of local communities who themselves are facing abject poverty.
Since violence erupted in South Sudan in December 2013, more than 1.8 million people, including more than one million children have arrived in neighbouring countries.
In just one year the refugee population in Uganda has more than doubled from 500,000 to more over 1.25 million, making the country host to the fastest growing refugee emergency in the world.
According to estimates, nearly 86 per cent of all refugees in the country are women and children and Uganda is now the third largest refugee-hosting country in the world, after Turkey and Pakistan.
However, the sheer scale of the crisis has put both the Government as well as host-communities under tremendous stress. UN agencies and humanitarian partners too are in urgent need of resources.
In order sustain relief programmes, the Government of Uganda and UN are calling for $8 billion in funding for both emergency response and resilience interventions for the country’s refugees and refugee-hosting population over the next four years.
Within this appeal, UNICEF operations require nearly $50 million in 2017 as well as $30 million each year from 2018-2020 to provide critical health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education, early childhood development, adolescent development, and child protection interventions, for both refugee and host community children.
Resources are also needed in Ethiopia and Kenya – together hosting about 800,000 South Sudanese refugees.
UNICEF requires $13.6 million for its programmes to respond to the new influx of refugees in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region, and $7.3 million for its response in Kenya.
In addition to funds, the UN agency has also reiterated its call on governments to adopt its six-point agenda for action to protect refugee and migrant children and ensure their well-being, which was launched ahead of the G7 Summit in Italy in late May.
At the same time, UNICEF also called for efforts ensure that families are kept together and uprooted children stay in school and stay healthy but above all causes that force children to flee in the first place are addressed.