People's Stories Human Rights Today

Uganda''s example of humanity deserves the world''s support
by UNHCR, Amnesty, agencies
22 June 2017
Uganda''s example of humanity deserves the world''s support, writes Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Imagine this: A refugee flees unspeakable violence and finds herself in a peaceful village where, not only is she welcomed, but the local farmer offers her half his land to farm. Dreamland?
In a village in the far north of Uganda, 54-year-old farmer Lagu Samuel has given a new home to a group of South Sudanese women, refugees who fled the violence over the border. At first, Lagu invited them to work the land with him, but soon he went further, handing over several acres so that they could grow their own crops. His generosity is rooted in compassion: “They have no land and I do.”
The relationship between Lagu and the visitors is just one example of the humanity and practicality that have made Uganda a beacon for the world in welcoming refugees. His gesture is supported by the Ugandan government, working with UNHCR and the Japan International Cooperation Agency amongst others. In return for his donation of land, he receives additional seeds, tools and training.
However, like Lagu, Uganda cannot sustain progressive policies on its own. Unless the international community supports it, the South Sudanese refugee crisis will become overwhelming. The consequences for the entire region are potentially catastrophic.
Years of war in South Sudan, and now drought and famine, have created the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis. Of the 1.9 million South Sudanese who have fled the country, half have gone to Uganda.
Since last July, an average of 40,000 people have arrived in Uganda from South Sudan every month. The numbers keep growing. Those arriving tell of indiscriminate killing, rape, destruction of property, arbitrary detention and a struggle to find food and access basic services. Displacement inside South Sudan is also widespread, with another 1.9 million uprooted within the country.
However, as Uganda continues to receive a steady flow of refugees, the world is leaving the country to face this crisis on its own. So far, a paltry 17 percent of the humanitarian funding target has been met. Besides a dereliction of moral duty, this raises two critical threats.
First, it hamstrings the emergency humanitarian response. Transit and reception facilities are struggling to cope. Resources such as food, health and educational services, and clean water are stretched.
Second, international indifference undermines Uganda’s often-praised model for welcoming, supporting and integrating refugees. Uganda gives refugees access to the same education and health care as its own nationals. They have the right to work and to establish businesses, and are given small plots of land in local communities. Where land has not been set aside for this purpose, the government negotiates donations of land with farmers and community leaders – an outstanding display of generosity.
A lack of international funding to support projects that combine development with humanitarian aid – an approach promoted by donors and international organisations – threatens the sustainability of these progressive policies.
Areas where Ugandans and refugees are living side by side, sharing services and resources, need attention and support so that refugees can continue putting their skills and talents to good use to support themselves and contribute to the local economy.
This approach means refugees have the prospect of dignity, normality and self-reliance. It benefits Ugandans, too, when services such as health care and education are provided for both the local population and the new arrivals. Such synergies uplift the entire community, creating services that are in demand long after the refugees return home.
Last September, members of the United Nations convened in New York for the Summit for Refugees and Migrants, at which 193 countries committed to developing a comprehensive approach to welcoming and helping refugees. There are more than 22 million refugees in the world, 84 per cent of them in low or middle-income countries; not in Europe, the United States or Australia, but in places that, in many cases, already struggle to provide basic services for their own people.
The South Sudan refugee crisis and the question of Uganda’s capability and resilience is proving to be an early test of the commitments of the New York Declaration. So far, Uganda’s magnificent response has been met by meagre support, but today there is a chance to turn the page.
A Solidarity Summit is being held over the next two days in Kampala by Uganda and the United Nations to rally international support for refugees and host communities in the form of donations, investment and innovative programmes. It is truly time for the world to step up to enable Uganda to continue showing us the way).
Elizabeth Abuk is one of the women farming land given to her by Lagu Samuel. She fled South Sudan with her four children, plus the four children of her brother, who was killed in the violence. Elizabeth, 38, said: “When you sit idle with your hands just open and begging, it’s not good… But when sweat comes out of your body that is when you will get something good to help yourself and your children.”
Elizabeth is willing to work to support herself and her family. Lagu is willing to help her for their mutual benefit. Uganda is willing to support them both in their endeavours. In the name of global solidarity, shared responsibility and regional stability, what is the rest of the international community willing to do?

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Poverty, illiteracy and early deaths await world’s most disadvantaged children
by Anthony Lake, Geert Cappelaere
2 June 2017
Unprecedented spread of cholera in Yemen as health workers race against time to save children.
Statement by UNICEF Regional Director, Geert Cappelaere, following his visit to the war-torn country.
“I have just concluded a trip to Yemen to oversee UNICEF’s response to the unprecedented cholera outbreak that is gripping the country.
“Cholera is spreading incredibly fast in Yemen, turning an already dire situation for children turn into a disaster. In just over one month, close to 70,000 cholera cases were reported with nearly 600 fatalities. The number of suspected cases is expected to reach 130,000 within the next two weeks.
“Cholera doesn’t need a permit to cross a checkpoint or a border, nor does it differentiate between areas of political control.
“At the triage in one of the few functioning hospitals I visited, I witnessed harrowing scenes of children who were barely alive - tiny babies weighing less than two kilos – fighting for their lives. I fear that some of them must have died overnight.
“Many families could barely afford the cost of bringing their children to hospital.
“But they are the lucky ones. Countless children around Yemen die every day in silence from causes that can easily be prevented or treated like cholera, diarrhoea or malnutrition.
“I met health workers racing against time to prevent cholera from killing more children. They are dedicated and committed, despite not receiving their salaries in almost nine months. They are Yemen’s unsung heroes and we have to do everything possible to provide them with the medical supplies and the support they desperately need. All authorities in Yemen must come together to start paying the country’s civil servants again.
“Since the start of this outbreak four weeks ago, UNICEF has been working with partners to respond. Our teams on the ground have provided safe water to over 1 million people across Yemen and delivered over 40 tonnes of lifesaving medical equipment – including medicine, oral rehydration salts, intravenous fluids and diarrhoea disease kits.
“But the international community needs to do more to provide immediate support to relief efforts in health, water and sanitation, nutrition and community mobilization. UNICEF urgently requires funding to prevent the outbreak from spreading further.
“But most importantly, it is time for parties to the conflict to prioritise the boys and girls of Yemen and put an end to the fighting through a peaceful political agreement. This is the ultimate way to save the lives of children in Yemen, and to help them thrive.”
1 June 2017
1.3 million children urgently need humanitarian assistance after storms batter Bay of Bengal.
At least 1.3 million children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance across the Bay of Bengal region following severe weather over the past six days, UNICEF has warned. Devastation wrought by Cyclone Mora in Myanmar and Bangladesh, and torrential monsoon rains across Sri Lanka have left children homeless and in need of protection, nutrition and health services.
“Children who have had their lives upended by brutal storms, severe flooding and landslides, are now threatened by a lack of safe drinking water, inadequate hygiene services and limited access to healthcare,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes.
“We must move quickly to ensure that services and supplies are in place to keep children safe and to stem the spread of communicable diseases like diarrhea, cholera or respiratory infections.”
UNICEF is particularly concerned about children and families who were already displaced and living in precarious conditions before the bad weather struck – this includes some 74,000 Rohingya refugees who recently crossed into Bangladesh and were sheltering in an area badly affected by Cyclone Mora, and 120,000 displaced people in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
“The sad reality is these children have now been hit by double humanitarian crises,” said Fontaine. “Displaced Rohingya children in Myanmar and Bangladesh, for example, were in many cases already struggling to access essential services even before the storm struck. It’s imperative that we reach these vulnerable and marginalized groups – as well as those living in poor communities who will be far more susceptible to fallout from these storms – with the support they need.”
The destruction caused by the storms in each of the three countries has been brutal. Initial reports from Myanmar indicate severe damage from Cyclone Mora to villages, schools and shelters accommodating displaced people in Rakhine and Chin states. While in Bangladesh, Cyclone Mora has affected around 2.8 million people in vulnerable coastal districts. In Sri Lanka, flash floods and landslides from monsoon rains have so far affected more than 631,000 people, displacing at least 77,000.
UNICEF and its partners are ramping up efforts to provide children and families from all communities devastated by the storms in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar with lifesaving services and support, regardless of their ethnicity, religion and citizenship status.
1 June 2017
Central African Republic: Thousands of children and families in desperate need of humanitarian assistance as violence escalates.
Two planes carrying vital supplies for thousands of families displaced by recent violence in the Central African Republic were finally able to land earlier today in Bangassou, UNICEF said, after weeks of intensified conflict had blocked the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the southeast.
“We’ve been trying to reach thousands of families in dire need of humanitarian assistance for over a week now, but the roads have become far too dangerous because of escalating violence,” said Christine Muhigana, UNICEF Representative in Central African Republic. “Given how critical the situation had become in the southeast, the only option was an airlift to get lifesaving supplies to children and families in these hard to reach areas.
Recent clashes between armed groups have hit civilians hard in Bria, Bangassou, Alindao, Mobaye and other villages across the southeast region, leaving 300 people dead and 200 injured, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
An estimated 100,000 people have fled their homes in search of safety, in what is the country’s largest population displacement since 2014. In Bria, the vast majority of the inhabitants – 40,000 people out of a total population of 47,000 – have already fled, with most of them being children.
In the hardest hit areas, roads are accessible only under UN military escort due to violence and insecurity, and truck drivers are reluctant to transport supplies, fearing for their lives.
UNICEF continues to call on all armed groups to give aid workers free and unimpeded access to civilian populations, so that life-saving supplies and services can be provided without delay.
UNICEF also fears that the latest wave of violence could unravel previous commitments made by armed groups to release all children and refrain from any new recruitment. In May 2015, leaders of 10 armed groups in CAR signed a commitment for the release of children. Since then, more than 7,000 children have been released from their ranks.
UNICEF’s humanitarian response for children in the Central African Republic is 30 per cent funded for 2017. Out of US $46.3 million requested, less than US $14 million has been received.
24 May 2017
Nearly 400,000 children at risk of severe acute malnutrition in the Greater Kasai region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) due to violence.
The crisis has severely disrupted life-saving interventions for children in recent months, putting an estimated 400,000 children at risks of severe acute malnutrition, said UNICEF.
Across the five provinces of Greater Kasai, critical health infrastructures are no longer operational due to the conflict. In Central Kasai Province alone, more than one-third of health centers have been forced to close, due to security concerns for staff or lack of medical supplies, depriving children of vital services and medicine.
“These children are among the most vulnerable in the country, and now they face a looming crisis if access to basic services is not restored quickly,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Without adequate health care, without access to food and clean water, the lives of hundreds of thousands of children are at risk.”
The nutrition situation of children is of particular concern because insecurity has made farming difficult for the local population. Eight health zones in Greater Kasai have been put on nutritional alert since the intensification of the conflict in August 2016. Supplies of food and basic necessities are dwindling, and displacement has forced families to live in conditions with inadequate hygiene or sanitation.
Even before the latest wave of violence, the Kasai Provinces were among the poorest in the country. More than one in ten children die before the age of five due to lack of adequate health care. Half the children suffer from chronic malnutrition or stunting. In recent months, widespread conflict across the region has exacerbated the situation.
"Our priority over the next few weeks is to reach thousands of severely malnourished children that can no longer be cared for in the health centers that have been destroyed,” said Tajudeen Oyewale, acting UNICEF Representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “But insecurity in these remote areas is making our work very challenging.”
UNICEF has stepped up its humanitarian response across the five Kasai provinces, providing therapeutic food to thousands of children in nutritional centres and training hundreds of community workers so they are able to screen children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. However, UNICEF needs funding assistancer for its emergency response in Greater Kasai.
17 May 2017
Five-fold increase in number of refugee and migrant children traveling alone since 2010 – UNICEF
The global number of refugee and migrant children moving alone has reached a record high, increasing nearly five-fold since 2010, UNICEF said today in a new report. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011.
‘A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation’ presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way. The report shows that an increasing number of these children are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of smugglers and traffickers, to reach their destinations, clearly justifying the need for a global protection system to keep them safe from exploitation, abuse and death.
“One child moving alone is one too many, and yet today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.”
May 2017
At least one in four children live in poverty in the Middle East and North Africa
According to a recent UNICEF analysis covering 11 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, poverty continues to impact at least 29 million children – one in four children in the region. These children are deprived of the minimum requirements in two or more of the most basic life necessities including basic education, decent housing, nutritious food, quality health care, safe water, sanitation and access to information.
“Child poverty is about so much more than family income – it’s about access to quality education, healthcare, a home and safe water. When children are deprived of the basics, they are at risk of getting trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), at a regional conference on child poverty held in Rabat, Morocco.
Country level information on child poverty has been aggregated for the first time in the MENA region. While important progress has been made in most countries to reduce poverty, the number of children living in poverty continues to be high. Countries affected by conflict are seeing a rapid regression of gains made in past decades.
The study’s key findings include:
• Lack of education was found to be one of the key drivers of inequality and poverty for children. Children who live in households that are headed by an uneducated family member are twice as likely to live in poverty. One quarter of children aged 5 to 17 are not enrolled in school or have fallen two grades behind.
• Almost half of all children live in inadequate housing with poor flooring and overcrowding.
• Almost half of all children are not fully immunized or were born to mothers who did not get enough antenatal care or birth assistance.
• One in five children are forced to walk more than 30 minutes to fetch water or use unsafe drinking water. More than one third of children live in homes with no tap water.
Major challenges stand in the way of measuring the impact of poverty on children and taking collective action towards poverty alleviation. To start with, countries in the region don’t consistently collect data on poverty while widespread and ongoing violence and displacement make it extremely difficult to get data from conflict-affected countries. Absence of a full understanding of children’s reality, including the most marginalised or invisible, risks that existing policies and actions fall short from addressing child poverty effectively.
“The return on investing in the most vulnerable children now is a peaceful and prosperous region in the future” said Cappelaere. “It takes a combination of true leadership and courageous public and private investment from governments, civil society, private sector, individuals and the international community”.
* Violence and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa have put in jeopardy the health of 24 million children in Yemen, Syria, the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Libya and Sudan. Damage to health infrastructure is depriving children of essential health care. Water and sanitation services have been compromised, causing waterborne diseases to spread while preventative health care and nutritious food are insufficient to meet children’s needs.
* UNICEF News:
Poverty, illiteracy and early deaths await world’s most disadvantaged children
Based on current trends, 69 million children under five will die from mostly preventable causes, 167 million children will live in poverty, and 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030, the target date for the Sustainable Development Goals – unless the world focuses more on the plight of its most disadvantaged children, according to a new UNICEF report.
The 2016 State of the World’s Children, UNICEF’s annual flagship report, paints a stark picture of what is in store for the world’s poorest children if governments, donors, businesses and international organizations do not accelerate efforts to address their needs.
“Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures – by fueling intergenerational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
“We have a choice: Invest in these children now or allow our world to become still more unequal and divided.”
The report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty. Global under-five mortality rates have been more than halved since 1990, boys and girls attend primary school in equal numbers in 129 countries, and the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide is almost half what it was in the 1990s.
But this progress has been neither even nor fair, the report says. The poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and to be chronically malnourished than the richest.
Across much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers with no education are almost 3 times more likely to die before they are 5 than those born to mothers with a secondary education. And girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.
Nowhere is the outlook grimmer than in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 247 million children – or 2 in 3 – live in multidimensional poverty, deprived of what they need to survive and develop, and where nearly 60 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds from the poorest fifth of the population have had less than four years of schooling. At current trends, the report projects, by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will account for:
• Nearly half of the 69 million children who will die before their fifth birthday from mostly preventable causes;
• More than half of the 60 million children of primary school age who will still be out of school; and 9 out of 10 children living in extreme poverty.
Although education plays a unique role in levelling the playing field for children, the number of children who do not attend school has increased since 2011, and a significant proportion of those who do go to school are not learning. About 124 million children today do not go to primary- and lower-secondary school, and almost 2 in 5 who do finish primary school have not learned how to read, write or do simple arithmetic.
The report points to evidence that investing in the most vulnerable children can yield immediate and long-term benefits.
Cash transfers, for example, have been shown to help children stay in school longer and advance to higher levels of education. On average, each additional year of education a child receives increases his or her adult earnings by about 10 per cent. And for each additional year of schooling completed, on average, by young adults in a country, that country’s poverty rates fall by 9 per cent.
Inequity is neither inevitable, nor insurmountable, the report argues. Better data on the most vulnerable children, integrated solutions to the challenges children face, innovative ways to address old problems, more equitable investment and increased involvement by communities – all these measures can help level the playing field for children.
* UNICEF is responding to an unprecedented number of major humanitarian emergencies facing children around the world. Here journalists can find the most recent news and resources on children caught in these crises, UNICEF’s response and key contacts in each region:

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