JUBA, South Sudan — Despite the nation’s rich oil supply, decades of civil war have made South Sudan one of the least developed places on earth. The world’s youngest country has faced unspeakable violence, famine and economic collapse since the overwhelming majority of its citizens voted to gain independence from Sudan in 2011. After years of displacement and struggle, those same people are being forced to flee the country that they fought so hard to create. The number of South Sudanese refugees recently reached one million.
Since the most recent civil war in South Sudan first erupted in 2013 following a political squabble between President Salva Kiir and his former vice-president Riek Machar, the country has continued on a downward spiral. The U.N. was forced to fire the commander of its peacekeeping mission in November of 2016 over failure to protect civilians. That same month, Japan made history by deploying peacekeeping soldiers with mandate to use force if necessarily, the first time it has done so in more than 70 years.
The number of South Sudanese refugees fleeing their newly formed country has continued to grow, with many walking for days or weeks to reach the border of neighboring Uganda where the policy toward refugees is ideal. Uganda’s refugee settlement model allows the displaced South Sudanese a plot of land to grow familiar foods like corn and beans to sustain themselves.
Noah Gottschalk, senior humanitarian policy advisor for Oxfam America, is currently working heavily on the emergency water supply for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. He thinks that the humanitarian crisis is being overshadowed by Syria. In an NPR radio interview, he indicated that “Uganda is the third-largest refugee-hosting country in the world now, but I think most people don’t realize that. When we think about refugees, we often think about the Syria crisis, which is the world’s largest.”
Save The Children U.K. recently teamed up with Caroline Kende-Robb, new chief advisor to the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity and executive director of Africa Progress Panel, to address children’s education for South Sudanese refugees living in Uganda. The problem in South Sudan has become so dire that parents are sending their young children across the border alone in search of educational opportunities. Save the Children is providing emergency education opportunities to South Sudanese refugees in Uganda, including classes for those who have fallen behind due to missed schooling, and “play camps” designed to help children recover from the traumas they may have experienced.
The Education Commission, meanwhile, is working with the Ugandan government on a plan that would supply education to all children in Uganda, including the more than 600,000 school-aged South Sudanese refugees, many of whom arrive with no parents. The two organizations hope to “bridge the gap between short-term humanitarian responses and longer-term development in education.”
According to a recent UNICEF study, South Sudan has the highest rate of out-of-school children at the primary school level, with almost 72 percent of children missing out on an education. This, combined with the increasing number of child marriages among South Sudanese refugees, many of whom feel they have no other choice than to marry off their young daughters for a price, has robbed South Sudan of an entire generation of young people.
The U.N. peacekeeping chief wrapped up a three-day mission trip to South Sudan in early August to address the dire humanitarian situation plaguing the country, resulting in a 4,000-strong U.N.-mandated regional protection force being deployed to South Sudan on August 8. Its mission is to provide protection in the country’s capital of Juba, and on the main routes to and from the city. The force will allow existing troops to travel outside the capital to other problem areas, protecting civilians and supporting humanitarian assistance.
– Katherine Gallagher