South Su­dan’s refugee flow now mostly a chil­dren’s cri­sis

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - NATION & WORLD -

ARUA, Uganda — The flood of South Sudanese refugees from the coun­try’s five-year civil war has been called a chil­dren’s cri­sis.

More than 60 per­cent of the well over 1 mil­lion refugees who have poured into neigh­bor­ing Uganda are un­der the age of 18, gov­ern­ment and United Na­tions of­fi­cials say. More than 2 mil­lion peo­ple have fled South Su­dan over­all.

Amid the fight­ing, over 75,000 chil­dren have found them­selves on their own in Uganda and other neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to the U.N. refugee agency, sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies in the chaos or sent by their par­ents to rel­a­tive safety.

While many chil­dren have re­united with rel­a­tives af­ter cross­ing the bor­der, oth­ers are matched by aid work­ers with foster fam­i­lies in an ef­fort to min­i­mize the dis­rup­tion in their lives. With­out par­ents, some chil­dren are left vul­ner­a­ble to ex­ploita­tion and abuse, aid work­ers say.

Some teenagers find them­selves the head of their house­holds, tak­ing care of sib­lings.

Ef­forts to sup­port the chil­dren have been hurt by a re­cent scan­dal in Uganda in which of­fi­cials were ac­cused of in­flat­ing refugee numbers to siphon off aid money. That has shaken in­ter­na­tional donors.

Aid work­ers say re­sources are stretched thin as they try to place the un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren with foster fam­i­lies with close eth­nic ties.

The un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren have lit­tle of what aid work­ers call psy­choso­cial sup­port to help deal with trauma. In one refugee set­tle­ment, just six case work­ers are avail­able for 78,000 chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to the Dan­ish Refugee Coun­cil.

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