The refugee crisis in South Sudan is one of the most alarming humanitarian situations in the world. Millions of South Sudanese are fleeing brutal violence and extensive food insecurity. Some 86% of those who seek safety in neighboring countries are women and children, including at least 75,000 children who have become separated from their families, many of whom are in poor health.
When Simon, 17, and his four young sisters arrived at a refugee camp near the Kenyan border, he told us that all he could feel was relief. The responsibility of keeping his sisters safe weighed heavily on his mind during their journey from South Sudan--a journey that Simon made on improvised wooden crutches, with an untreated gunshot wound in his left thigh.
In December 2016, Simon went searching for honey and wild fruits to feed his family as they were out of food. He got too close to the fighting and was shot. The health center near his village was abandoned, so his injury was left untreated and his leg is now severely affected. He walks slowly and is often in pain.
A difficult decision
Simon tells us that his parents felt they had no other option but to send the children to Kenya after struggling for years to keep the family together. They used to grow and sell sorghum (a grain) and vegetables, which provided enough food for everyone. The income was so good that Simon was able to attend school. But after successive droughts, they have lost almost all of their crops and the war has caused food prices to rise. They lived in constant fear of the fighting and became increasingly worried about Simon’s leg.
Safety and hope
Having lived through such a long period of violence and uncertainty, Simon seems more mature and composed than most teenagers. He explains what happened to him in confident English and tells us that he misses studying. He left his home with the hope that in Kenya he would be able to get proper treatment for his leg and an education for his sisters. Handicap International and partners will support him every step of the way, starting with new crutches and rehabilitation care.
The scale of the crisis
Simon’s story is part of a much larger disaster. Six million people in South Sudan, approximately half of the population, currently face extreme food shortages. Thanks to concerned humanitarian interventions, the most severely affected areas are managing to stave off famine, but the UN food agency has warned that the crisis is actually worsening, with more people in need of food assistance than ever before.
1.9 million South Sudanese are internally displaced and a further 1.9 million are registered refugees in neighboring countries. Uganda alone currently hosts 977,746 South Sudanese refugees and, with thousands more arriving each day, will reach 1 million in the coming weeks. These are unprecedented circumstances, even for a country with a long history of welcoming refugees.
Handicap International has worked in South Sudan for more than a decade. We work primarily in camps to ensure that people with specific needs, including people with disabilities, older people and other vulnerable groups, can access the services they need and are protected from abuse and discrimination.
We are also improving care for South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia and Kenya. For example, we recently launched a health program in Ethiopia’s border camps that aims to provide a more certain future for refugee children with malnutrition.
Handicap International is alarmed by the number of South Sudanese refugees arriving in Uganda and is especially concerned for people who may need specific support. We do not have an existing presence in the country, but due to the severity of this crisis, we are launching a new national program.