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.

Here’s What the Anti-Vaccine Movement Looks Like from Africa

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Here's What the Anti-Vaccine Movement Looks Like from Africa

I would like you all to imagine a different reality. Take a moment and visualize what life would be like if 15-25 percent of the children in your town died before the age of five. The deaths aren’t easy. They are often excruciatingly painful for both the dying child and the family. You have no idea why or how this has happened.

Welcome to rural Africa. In villages people eat organically, move every day and yet die of easily treatable diseases at an incredibly disparate rate. It is rare that you see an anti-vaccination advocates in these parts. Rather, vaccination drives and healthcare advocacy tends to take center stage, and for good reason. If you watch a child suffer from measles, it’s very difficult to conclude that the amount of mercury in a vaccination could be more dangerous than a disease that takes more than 100,000 lives each year.

In Uganda, where I live, 63 percent of children remain unvaccinated. When you drive into rural communities, coffins that are small, plain and built to hold children are sold on the side of the road, in plain sight. Death is neither hidden nor sterilized in these parts. In clinics, posters are nothing like those in the west, full of sweet smiling children and milestone markers. Here there are pictures of children with polio, children with measles and pictures of children who likely succumbed to their disease. Vaccinations are promoted, but rural clinics with threadbare resources don’t always have these treatments in stock…

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/heres-what-the-anti-vaccine-movement-looks-like-from-africa.html#ixzz2xA4HXuLC