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.

Horrific, Racist Mining Abuses Continue in Sierra Leone

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Horrific, Racist Mining Abuses Continue in Sierra Leone

If Sierra Leone is known for one thing in the West, it’s the brutal depictions of the diamond industry in the film”Blood Diamond.” We watched workers face death and amputation while surviving in unlivable conditions. The film caused major uproar in the diamond industry. But what if you found out similar conditions were still at work within the country, in regards to both diamonds and iron ore?

A new Human Rights Watch report has come out detailing the abuses of mining industries within Sierra Leone. Questions have been raised about a number of foreign companies that, while not chopping off any limbs, are still exposing their workers to the threat of death, with unsafe working conditions.

Koidu Holdings Limited, operated by Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz’s Octea Diamond Group, has been accused of providing poor working conditions, racist treatment and inhibiting local unionization. In 2012, a strike in Kono District led to two people being killed in police skirmishes. Steinmetz is now being investigated in neighboring Guinea over iron ore mining.

Addax, a Swiss firm that deals in sugarcane, has displaced a number of people who protested both poor working conditions and food security.

In the town of Bumbuna, where mining expeditions discovered an immense amount of iron ore, the quality of life has steadily decreased. African Minerals Limited (AML) is a London-based company that settled in the Bambuna area in 2006.

Although this area was already inhabited by villagers, this mattered little to the mining company, who promptly went about removing them. Villagers were promised new homes, with water pipes, plenty of food and access to education. Instead, villages have been placed on arid lands with little access to water, sustenance or education for their children. On their old land, food and water were plentiful, “Before, we ate three or more meals per day. Now it’s one,” said a village elder. “We have to buy things now that we used to get for free.”

The displaced people only added to the overall feelings of discontent. The workers in the mines, 80 percent of whom are from Sierra Leone, found themselves increasingly at odds with AML. One worker described the situation in the mining canteens, “The chicken is … boiled and undercooked with the blood still visible. There are flies in the food. The expats and locals eat separately, and the locals are not permitted to eat in the expat dining room… There is only one meal…for the African workers, with no other opportunities to eat in a day that starts at 3 a.m. and doesn’t end until 9 p.m. sometimes.” Other instances include giving expat workers bottled water, while local workers have been forced to drink out of streams, which are laden with bacteria, including cholera.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/horrific-racist-mining-abuses-continue-in-sierra-leone.html#ixzz2y0wJENAw