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