Education crucial for children caught in the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis in Uganda

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Education is crucial for children caught in Uganda’s refugee crisis (UNHCR)

Children in conflicts, Education Cannot Wait, Education funding, Education in emergencies, Refugees and internally displaced people

A summit today aims to raise vital funds for basic services - including schooling - for almost one million people who have fled violence in South Sudan.

Education must be the focus when international organisations meet today to discuss the emergency refugee situation in Uganda, a leading charity has said.

Nearly one million refugees are expected to have crossed the border from South Sudan to Uganda by the end of July, due to fighting that escalated last summer.

Save the Children warned that children as young as 11 are making the journey alone, having fled their homes or villages due to the violence. 

And more than 900,000 refugee children could be shut out of education over the next three years, it says in a new report.

The summit, which starts today in Kampala, has been organised by the government of Uganda and will be attended by the United Nations Secretary-General, development ministers and NGOs.

South Sudan Refugees In Uganda 4

Almost one million people have fled violence in South Sudan causing major disruption to education (UNHCR)

It aims to raise critical funds to provide nearly 1.3 million refugees with basic services, including education. The response is currently only 17% funded.

Uganda’s First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, Janet Museveni, said: “As a mother myself, it breaks my heart that children are forced to flee from their homes in South Sudan to Uganda. 

“Some are alone, desperately scared for their future. Some report witnessing terrible atrocities, the scars of which will last a lifetime. Many have missed school, further stunting their future and life chances.”

In advance of the summit, Save the Children shared a plan of action with President Yoweri Museveni to get all South Sudanese refugee children in Uganda back to school.

It challenged donors to step up and pay $464 million over three and half years – which works out as an average of $152 per child per year. This would cover costs for: 

  • The construction of 304 new early childhood and primary school sites, and 110 new secondary schools 
  • Reading materials, textbooks and school supplies for all schools 
  • Employing 5307 primary and secondary school teachers 
  • Training, recruitment and accreditation of 750 primary school teachers from South Sudan

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International, who will attend the summit, said: “Uganda is experiencing the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world and is now the top refugee hosting country in Africa. 

“While it has one of the most generous refugee policies of any country, it simply can’t provide for them without support from the international community”.

“Nearly 60% of refugees in Uganda are children and as many as 300,000 aren’t in school. Education gives these children hope for a better future and world leaders must commit this week to getting them back to school.”

The number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda now stands at 956,822. 

Refugees continue to report fleeing South Sudan to escape fighting between armed groups, particularly in Kajo Keji and Yei counties.

People are fleeing due to indiscriminate killings, looting of property, burning of houses, torture, rape, arrest by armed forces, lack of basic services and hunger.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said at least 14 community volunteers and health workers had reportedly been forcibly recruited by armed groups in Guit county.

“The health facility in Nimni (area in Guit), as well as at least two schools in the area, have been forced to close due to forced recruitment of personnel essential to their operations,” OCHA said.

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Schooling for South Sudanese refugees would cost just $152 per child per year (UNHCR)

A regional drought has made the situation worse. Food prices in East Africa have shot up – a crisis that has fuelled widespread hunger in Somalia, parts of Kenya and Ethiopia. It’s also caused famine in South Sudan.

Caroline Kende Robb, Chief Adviser to the Education Commission, has been visiting Uganda’s refugee camps with Save the Children UK’s team – including CEO Kevin Watkins – to discuss schooling for South Sudanese children and youth seeking refuge in the north of Uganda.

She wrote: “A spotlight must be shone on education for refugees and host communities. At this conference, a plan will be presented setting out how much money leaders need to pledge in order to ensure all refugee children are in school. 

“The Education Commission is working with the Ugandan government to develop a plan to deliver an education to all Uganda’s children – whether refugees or citizens – a roadmap that will outline results and ramp up delivery.”

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