Dispatches From The Road: The Unaccompanied Children of Uganda’s Refugee Crisis

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It comes as no surprise that the vast majority of South Sudanese refugees coming into Uganda are women and children. For the past few years trends and data from the region have shown that when violence breaks out, the men stay behind. However, perhaps one of the most heartbreaking and forgotten demographics of this statistic are the unaccompanied minors. Young boys and girls who flee their villages alone, or lose a guardian along the way.

In my trips to refugee camps, and in interviews with relief workers, it became clear that children who left without their families – or lost them along the way – will face a dangerous uphill battle. That’s because, as it was explained to me, they have so few real protections. Refugee aid workers can offer their best of care, but with the sheer numbers of unaccompanied minors flowing over the border, it’s impossible to keep an eye on them all.

And the numbers, I learned, were staggering.

According to the UNHCR, “Children have been separated from their families on an unprecedented scale. Over 34,000 separated or unaccompanied children have been registered, representing 10%, of the total number of refugee children in some of the countries of asylum.” These statistics are staggering from a humanitarian perspective, which UNHCR goes on to point out, “With almost 70% of the refugees from South Sudan and Sudan under the age of 18, both conflicts are nothing less than a war on their children.”

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Interviews with workers at refugee centers highlight the humanity of refugees – who despite lacking their own resources – often take on unaccompanied children under their wing, at least until they reach Uganda.

Catherine Ntabadde with UNICEF told me that unaccompanied children are targeted first for special care. She says that education tents and a group of rotating psychosocial workers have been deployed in Northern Uganda’s refugee centers and camps. However, unaccompanied minors still face an increased threat of sexual and gender based violence as well as increased risk of exploitative child labour practices.

Aid agencies are working to register these children and ensure that unaccompanied refugees are offered all proper protections. Yet with overflowing camps forcing many refugees to move on a moment’s notice – unaccompanied children can too easily fall through the cracks.

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The UNHCR says that legal framework and enhanced policy must be enacted to ensure children are well cared for under these refugee programs. It also encourages monitoring and reporting to enhance our current data on the crisis.

Yet on ground participation from local communities, offering some semblance of normal life is a must for recovery. This includes access to schooling, a safe home life and a team of advocates to ensure that the most vulnerable, among an already dispossessed population, have a place to call home.

The People And Their Police

Police in Uganda are facing a narrowing space in local communities with relationships between civilian and officer deteriorating. The Ugandan Police Force is attempting to rehabilitate its image. Yet many feel that unless police actively prosecute their own for wrongdoing, the community outreach means very little.  This short photo essay focuses on the often tenuous relationship between the people, their spaces and their police force.

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Smoke rises behind a police officer at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Sent into quash protests, police often engage in running battles with students – ending in tear gas and destruction of property.

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Police officers often make their presence known without actively engaging angry citizens. This method can and does keep violence at bay. However, some citizens say that it also doubles as intimidation against their right to assemble.

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During the 2016 Presidential Elections both Military Police and local police units conducted heavy patrols throughout Kampala. In some communities there is still considerable anger over what they saw as encroachment on their right to vote. Although this anger is rarely seen in the open, it can manifest in surprising ways. In one instance, a group of boda riders left a man who had been stuck by a vehicle on the road to die after finding out he was a local police officer. Such divisions are often ignored by local leadership.

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Supporters of political opposition leader Kizza Besigye assemble across the street after being denied entrance into his court proceedings. Situations where crowds amass in an “us vs. them” mentality can increase the likelihood of violence between citizen and police officers. Later that day, a number of supporters were arrested after staging an impromptu march down the road.

3 Ways the International Community Can Support LGBT Ugandans

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When it comes to admonishing Uganda for its anti-homosexuality stance, millions are ready to weigh in. However, in all this admonishment, many forget that LGBT Ugandans actually exist — Ugandans who are willing to put their lives on the line for what they believe in. So as Pride nears (yes there is a Pride Parade in Uganda), let’s take a look at three easy ways you can support the LGBT community here in Uganda.

Support Local Causes

While it’s true that Uganda’s LGBT community faces daunting threats both to their rights and personal security, there are a number of out and proud Ugandan activists who run LGBT programs inside the country. These includes organizations such as Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) and Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). Both organizations have been on the front lines, overturning the Anti-Homosexuality Act last year and implementing healthcare and outreach programs across the country.

In addition, local news magazines, such as Bombastic, help give LGBT Ugandans an outlet to speak. Bombastic is headed by the legendary Ugandan LGBT activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, who was one of the grand marshals in this year’s New York Pride Parade. Bombastic’s message is unique in that for many Ugandans this is the first (yes first) time they are hearing about life from a LGBT point of view, rather than from hateful evangelicals.

By showing your support for these groups, you can help support legal battles, local health initiatives, security training and events like Pride.

Don’t Scare Monger

While the Anti-Homosexuality Act was realized with the help of Western evangelicals such as Scott Lively, it was challenged and repealed by Ugandans. When talking about Uganda and how much they “hate” homosexuals remember that LGBT Ugandans are proud of their culture and heritage and know that it can exist without hate.

In fact, before colonialism and English laws were implemented, prominent kingdoms had gay men in positions of power. In the West Nile region, a marriage between same-sex couples were considered normal. It takes time to rediscover culture when the demonization of local beliefs has been entrenched for decades. Let LGBT Ugandans and their allies do their work, and let’s not treat the country like a monolith.

Be Careful as to Which Evangelical Missions You Support

There are a massive amount of church groups that take yearly trips to Uganda in order to “help” the country. While some missions do truly care about the well-being of the community, a number of them are discriminatory and hateful. They spread this hate to local communities, scaring them into believing that the homosexuals prey on children and attempt to convert them into sexual deviants.

Rather than supporting missions that may or may not spread hate, why not support local Christian groups that are LGBT-friendly? Think that’s crazy?

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/3-ways-the-international-community-can-support-lgbt-ugandans.html#ixzz3gf8vlADx

Aerialists in the Sky: Uganda’s Hiccup Circus

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Back in January I did a story for VOA on Uganda’s Hiccup Circus which can be found here. In it, I detailed how this circus troupe was bringing educational messages and entertainment to children in poorer regions of Kampala, as well as refugee camps around Uganda.

Many of the aerialists in the circus are self taught, and spend hours practicing dangerous drops and loops to entertain their fans. Here are some photos from the shoot, which highlights the incredible skill of these young men.

One of the senior aerialists in the Hiccup Circus gets wrapped up in his work (ba-dum-ching!)

One of the senior aerialists in the Hiccup Circus gets wrapped up in his work (ba-dum-ching!)

The silks stretch slightly to allow give when aerialists do particular drops. Because of this, climbing them can be a momentous task and takes serious upper body strength.

The silks stretch slightly to allow give when aerialists do particular drops. Because of this, climbing them can be a momentous task and takes serious upper body strength.

Instructions from the ground are called up to the aerialist as he practices his performance.

Instructions from the ground are called up to the aerialist as he practices his performance.

Keeping a cool head while hanging by one leg is a must.

Keeping a cool head while hanging by one leg is a must.

Peeking through, the series of wraps performed by this aerialist has allowed him some time to relax while suspended in the air.

Peeking through, the series of wraps performed by this aerialist has allowed him some time to relax while suspended in the air.

To take down the silks, climbers shimmy up the pole and untie it. This is far more dangerous than most of the moves performed while on the silks because he's outside the radius of the crash pad.

To take down the silks, climbers shimmy up the pole and untie it. This is far more dangerous than most of the moves performed while on the silks because he’s outside the radius of the crash pad.

Amama Mbabazi Arrested in Ugandan Presidential Bid

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On Thursday, presidential aspirant Amama Mbabazi was arrested in Jinja town and brought to Kira Road Police Station in Kampala. Supporters and journalists flocked to the police station and in the high tension atmosphere, physical altercations between the police and Mbabazi supporters broke out. These are my photographs from that day.

Police enforce a strict barrier between journalists, the public and the police station while presidential hopeful Amama Mbabazi is inside.

Police enforce a strict barrier between journalists, the public and the police station while presidential hopeful Amama Mbabazi is inside.

The strategy was 'containment'.

The strategy was ‘containment’.

Two Mbabazi supporters look on in horror as police and civilians begin to clash.

Two Mbabazi supporters look on in horror as police and civilians begin to clash.

Police and Mbabazi supporters stumble into traffic while in the midst of a physical fight.

Police and Mbabazi supporters stumble into traffic while in the midst of a physical fight.

An Mabazi supporter distributes posters along Kira Road. Second later he had to run from the police or face arrest.

An Mabazi supporter distributes posters along Kira Road. Seconds later he had to run from the police or face arrest.

As the police pull up just out of view, supporters make their case to passing traffic.

As the police pull up just out of view, supporters make their case to passing traffic.

Prayer House in Berlin to Unite Judaism, Christianity and Islam

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In Berlin, a rabbi, an imam and a priest walk into a building. They go to their respective rooms of worship, and meet in the courtyard for a discussion on interfaith cooperation. But there’s no punch line here. Rather, concrete plans are underway for a large, interfaith house of worship that will bring the three major Abrahamic faiths, Judiaism, Christianity and Islam under one roof for the first time in European history.

The Building of One was originally thought up by Protestant parish priest Gregor Hohberg. The land this multi-religious house will inhabit was once home to Berlin’s first church. Although it was destroyed after WWII, when a team went excavating, they found remnants of an incredibly old cemetery. This gave rise to the idea that a building representing all monotheistic faiths should be built in its place.

The other two religious representatives of the project, Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin and Imam Kadir Sanci, see this as an important step in uniting interfaith dialogue in Berlin’s large multi-cultural community.

An architecture competition was held to decide on the final design for the project. The winner, Wilfried Kuehn, noted that while his team was researching religious designs, they found plenty of architectural similarities between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Each religious room shares the exact same amount of space, and accommodates the needs of all worshipers. In the mosque and synagogue, there are two levels due to their nature of worship. In the church, there is an organ.

To access the houses of worship requires people to enter and exit through a central meeting building. Here the religious leaders plan to host talks and question and answer sessions for those curious about religious similarities and resolving interfaith issues within the city.

The winning design for the House of One meeting place
For Rabbi Chorin, he sees it as a symbolic step for Berlin. In a country where “Jewish suffering was planned,” this is a great way to expose how these three monotheistic religions shaped the continent of Europe. “For me,” he said, “Berlin is about remembrance and rebirth.”

While some were skeptical as to how the three religious leaders would get on, according to them there have been very few issues. While some people within each faith has a hard time getting along with one another, Rabbi Chorin explains, “You have to start somewhere.”

This will be the first time in European history that these three faiths have shared one roof, and if the 60 billion dollar project is successful, will likely lead to more buildings of its kind around the continent.

Imam Kadir Sanci praised the House of One, calling it a place where Muslims can feel at home within the city. “A place where we are taken seriously – in the way we interpret and observe our religion, and…be part of a fruitful exchange with the city and other religions.”

Festivals will also make this a lively and inclusive place for those who choose to come. All religious festivals, including Easter, Eid, and Hanukkah will all be celebrated at the House of One.

Fundraising is still taking place on the building, and the three faiths have turned to crowdfunding to help take on the effort. However, the leaders are committed to this being a faith-based community effort, rather than some project financed by dogmatic religious institutions. Because of this, they’ve put a donation cap in place. Nobody is allowed to buy into more than 1% of the total cost (about 430,000 Euros) and nobody is allowed to curry special favor.

Those donating are encouraged to own a ‘brick’ of the building, for a small 10 Euro donation.

Pastor Hohberg is confident this building, and it’s commitments to the various religious communities within the city, will be an important step for Berlin. “This house will become home to equality, peace and reconciliation.” And if these three religious men get their way, they will be creating an example that cities around the globe can follow.