KAMPALA, The Ugandan government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have appealed to the international community for urgent and massive support for thousands of South Sudan refugees who continue to pour into this country, fleeing brutal conflict back home, coupled with a lack of food.

The joint appeal was made here Wednesday by Ugandan Prime Minister of Uganda Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, who noted that the influx of refugees into Uganda was placing a huge strain on resources, presenting a big challenge.

"Uganda has continued to maintain open borders but this unprecedented mass influx is placing enormous strain on our public services and local infrastructure. We continue to welcome our neighbours in their time of need but we urgently need the international community to assist as the situation is becoming increasingly critical," Rugunda said.

"We are at breaking point. Uganda cannot handle Africa's largest refugee crisis alone," Grandi said. "The lack of international attention to the suffering of the South Sudanese people is failing some of the most vulnerable people in the world when they most desperately need our help."

Uganda currently hosts more than 800,000 South Sudanese refugees, 572,000 of them new arrivals who have continued to stream into the country in desperate need of safety and help since July last year.

There are projections that the population of South Sudan refugees in Uganda is likely to rise above one million by mid-2017, given that more than 172,000 of them have fled into Uganda since the beginning of the year.

However, chronic and severe under-funding has reached a point where critical life-saving help risks becoming dangerously compromised with transit and reception facilities rapidly becoming overwhelmed. Major challenges are being faced in providing refugees with adequate food, health and educational services, and sufficient clean water; a dire situation further compounded by heavy rains.

Currently, the UNHCR urgently needs more than a quarter of a billion US dollars to support South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.

Save the Children says in new statement on the current state of children in the refugee camps that many of them are malnourished and have malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections. "Our biggest concern right now is that the under-funding of the response means that children, who comprise more than half of the total (refugee) population, do not have access to adequate protection from abuse, health, nutrition, and education services in the settlements," said Save the Children Uganda Country Director Brechtje van Lith.

Similarly, out of 36,900 children of primary school-going age at the Bidibidi settlement in Yumbe district, which hosts the largest number of South Sudanese refugees, only 52 per cent have access to education.

Van Lith said many of the children have come to Uganda on their own, having been separated from or lost their parents during flight. The Bidibidi camp has 4,638 unaccompanied and separated children registered. "These children often get lured into marriage, child labour to meet survival needs, as well as face exposure to sexual and physical abuse, particularly while under the care of adults other than their parents or guardians," Van Lith added.



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