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Refugee crisis in South Sudan: one of the most alarming humanitarian situations in the world

Press release | 12th September 2017, 09:00

New arrivials from South Sudan in Kakuma refuge camp, Kenya.

New arrivials from South Sudan in Kakuma refuge camp, Kenya. | © P. Meinhardt/Handicap International

Since the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan in 2013, millions of South Sudanese are fleeing from brutal violence and extensive food insecurity. Fleeing civilians are displaced within the country or are taking refuge in neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda or Kenya. Since 17th August, the staggering threshold of 1 million South Sudanese refugees has been reached in Uganda [1]. Handicap International is already supporting people in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and is about to launch activities in Uganda.

The situation in South Sudan is unprecedented and Handicap International is particularly concerned for people who may have difficulties accessing humanitarian assistance such as people with disabilities, older people and other marginalized groups. While the official famine might have been downgrading in the country, millions of people are still struggling to find enough food every day and 6 million are now severely food insecure. [2]

 “I heard horror stories about people being left behind when their families fled the fighting,” says Aleema Shivji, Executive Director of Handicap International UK, who visited the charity’s programs in South Sudan and Kenya this summer.

“The conditions in the refugee camps and in the community are particularly difficult for and vulnerable people. The threat of gender-based violence is constant, uneven and narrow pathways make it difficult for people with mobility or visual problems to move around, latrines are inaccessible,” explains Aleema.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable. “The majority of refugees arriving in border camps are women and children; they are often exhausted and in poor health, with alarmingly high malnutrition rates amongst under-fives,” adds Aleema.

Children under five who survive severe acute malnutrition suffer major trauma when they would normally be developing their basic physical and intellectual abilities. Instead of learning to sit, crawl, observe and solve problems, their bodies need to use all of their energy simply to survive. If their suffering is prolonged, these children are likely to experience developmental delays and, in severe cases, can be left permanently ,” explains Aleema.

Handicap International’s specialists are providing physical stimulative therapy to malnourished children. They get the children moving, thinking and playing again otherwise they will not fully recover and may become malnourished again. Simply providing the calories and nutrients is not enough; physical stimulative therapy breaks the cycle of malnutrition.

Handicap International’s teams are also providing rehabilitation care to refugees and displaced people and advise, support and train major assistance providers to ensure that the specific needs of vulnerable groups are carefully considered in their emergency response plans.

In South Sudan, Handicap International also operates a ‘flying team’ of a range of rehabilitation experts, which visits the most isolated areas that are difficult to reach to help people with disabilities access the support they need. People like Uguock, a single man of 80 years old. Uguock is living with a scoliosis, a congenital deformity of the spinal column. He fled from his home when the war reached Malakal town in 2013. Having left everything behind, Uguock found that all of his everyday tasks were challenging and time consuming. In particular, he found it difficult to walk the long distances to collect his food ration. Handicap International’s flying team met with him and provided him with a tricycle that allows him to access humanitarian services more easily.


[1] The Government of Uganda and the UN Refugee Agency

[2] OCHA, Humanitarian Bulletin South Sudan, Issue 14, 8 September 2017

HI's activities in South Sudan are carried out with the support of European Union humanitarian funding.

Funded by European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid logo

Interviews available upon request with Aleema Shivji, Executive Director of Handicap International UK, and British field staff in South Sudan.

Press contact
Marlene Sigonney, Handicap International UK
media[at] | +44 (0)870 774 3737 | +44 (0)7508 810 520

About Handicap International
Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is a charity working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. We work tirelessly alongside and vulnerable people to help meet their basic needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights.

HI-US Media Contact

Mica Bevington
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +1 (240) 450-3531
Mobile: +1 (202) 290-9264


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