UNCHR Limits Services to South Sudanese Children
in World’s Largest Refugee Camp
For Immediate Release
WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 18, 2008) -- According to a Washington, D.C. Sudanese advocacy group, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) is reportedly denying basic services to children in a northern Kenya refugee camp, in order to hasten the repatriation of Sudanese refugees.
The Southern Sudanese Voice for Freedom (SSVF), whose mission is to ensure an informed and fair implementation of the 2005 Sudanese Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the two decades-old civil war, says UNHCR officials are restricting school enrollment of southern Sudanese refugee children at the Kakuma refugee camp, in order to pressure parents to return to Southern Sudan. The UNHCR, Government of Kenya and the Government of the
Sudan signed a tripartite agreement in December 2006 for the voluntary repatriation of Sudanese refugees in
Kenya to the
SSVF president Jimmy Mulla says his group’s on-the-ground sources report school enrollment has been curtailed at both elementary and secondary levels. According to one mother, her teenage son was denied registration by school authorities under directives from UNHCR, forcing him to stay home without schooling since the beginning of the school year in January 2008. Another source, an area priest familiar with the school situation, is quoted as saying that out of 21 schools in the different zones of the camp, only six or seven remain open. Sources also claim a number of health clinics have been shut down, with services centralized in one zone. A UN official in
Nairobi contacted by phone by the SSVF declined to comment.
“The tragedy is that after losing their homes as a result of the 22-year civil war, these children are again being victimized,” said Mulla. “If they receive no education while in the refugee camp, they must wait until their parents decide if and when they’ll try to return to
South Sudan – where in many areas schools are non-existent. Thus, these children face an extremely uncertain future.”
SSFV/Kenya Refugee Camps 2-2-2
While some camp residents are enrolling their children in area government boarding schools, most cannot afford the 19,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately USD $300) required per child, per term. In addition to concerns about reduced education and health services, there is also fear of local Turkana tribesmen who are blamed for last month’s deaths of two refugees.
Established in the desert of northern Kenya in 1991, the 15 kilometer-by-one-kilometer Kakuma refugee camp is the largest and one of the oldest in the world, housing some 90,000 Sudanese, Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Burundians, and Ugandans – all of whom have been displaced by armed conflict in their homelands. Of the original 63,000 Sudanese, there currently remain 30-to-40,000 as a result of the voluntary repatriation program. To date in 2008, more than 5,000 refugees have returned to
Sudan from Kakuma, and another 2,000 are expected to head home this month. Since January 2005 the U.N. refugee agency has helped repatriate 100,000
South Sudan refugees, and another 151,000 returned on their own. About 260,000 Sudanese refugees remain outside the country.
An impending census in
Southern Sudan, and the need to meet the implementation benchmarks of the CPA are fueling the repatriation effort, but activists say this is at the expense of many refugees, particularly children, who are voiceless in setting or implementing policy. Furthermore, as a result of the Sudanese civil war, many of the displaced will be returning to areas where infrastructure and basic services are either completely non-existent or extremely limited. Most structures were either damaged or destroyed during the conflict – or simply never existed in the first place.
“With the political dynamics in favor of repatriation due to the impending census, and the goal to meet the bench marks in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the UN agency has reached milestones in the repatriation process,” Mulla observed, “but this cutting back in services promises to make the refugee condition – particularly for the children – an issue with serious repercussions for the future.”