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Children refugees can be helped to discover their potential

By Geoffrey Mutegeki

Added 20th June 2017 01:48 PM

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) puts the number of refugees in Uganda at 1.3 million. About 60% of this population is children-totaling to over 750,000.

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Children refugees playing at Rwamwanja refugee camp in Kamwenge district. Photo by Geoffrey Mutegeki

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) puts the number of refugees in Uganda at 1.3 million. About 60% of this population is children-totaling to over 750,000.

Uganda is one of the countries with the highest number of refugees in the world, with majority being children.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) puts the number of refugees in Uganda at 1.3 million. About 60% of this population is children-totaling to over 750,000.

According to Catherine Ntabadde, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Uganda having such a young refugee population represents both an opportunity and challenge.

“If they are effectively invested in and supported, they will be enabled to develop to their full potential and thus contribute as productive citizens in the future,” Ntabadde says.

However when they are not effectively invested in and supported, there is a greater likelihood that they will not be as productive as they could be and even further be marginalized and disenfranchised.

Through support from UNICEF, the government working with key partners, such as UNHCR, is doing all it can to reach thousands of refugee children in Uganda with critical, often lifesaving, services.

“Unaccompanied and separated children who are either placed in foster care, living alone as child headed families and those living in groups. For all these children, UNICEF ensures that the children are under the watch of an adult. This is done through different initiatives like home visits, community dialogues, and peace clubs among others,” Ntabadde says.

Children are also offered psycho-social support to help children overcome the trauma and anxiety of being separated from their loved ones.

Most of the refugee children live in trauma of having witnessed or suffered forced displacement, separation from loved ones and physical and sexual violence.

“Children get cognitive behavioural therapy for trauma and psycho-education sessions to help them overcome mental health and sexual violence exposures. For those that do not heal, they are taken through advanced psychosocial healing” Ntabadde says.

She says children need to access education to ensure their education and skill development continues. To address these, children need to enroll to early childhood development center.

While nearly 50,000 young children from refugee and host communities are enrolled in early learning programmes and over 35,000 adolescents are accessing formal or informal education as a result of interventions by partners, significant education gaps remain for both refugee and host community children. 

“Space is also provided for primary school going children in partnership with Windle Trust, an implementing partner of UNHCR. UNICEF is also supporting the enrollment of caregivers for teaching training courses,”

Reproductive health

UNICEF and Ministry of Health have rolled out Family Connect, an initiative that registers women in reproductive age and sends targeted lifesaving based messages via SMS to pregnant women, new mothers, and heads of households.

“Such a system strengthens referral chain by sending SMS follow up reminders to community health workers,” Ntabadde says

Funding gaps

With the refugees continuing to arrive in Uganda in large numbers, the current funding gaps will leave UNICEF and partners unable to provide the much needed support for the women and children.

Such dramatic numbers are placing excessive pressure on State and host community resources, especially social services that are critical to children’s well-being.

“The needs of children are still enormous and they include immediate vaccination against measles and polio; nutritional support, access to safe and clean water for drinking; access to appropriate sanitation facilities and hygiene promotion” Ntabadde says.

To realize these needs, UNICEF requires: $10.3 million for Reproductive Maternal Newborn and Child Health (RMNCH); $5.5 million for nutrition; $2.3 million for HIV/AIDS; $11 million for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH); $7.7 million for education; and $12 million for child protection.

Furthermore, UNICEF requires roughly $30m for its emergency and resilience response in each year from 2018-2020.

On June 23 Uganda will host the refugee solidarity summit in Kampala to pave way for solutions to the increasing influx of refugees in Uganda and the region.

The Summit is jointly organized by Government of Uganda, the Office of the UN Secretary- General and the UNHCR, with the support of the UN in Uganda

President Yoweri Museveni and the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) António Guterres and other international dignitaries will attend this landmark summit.

 

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