Four boys: From conflict in South Sudan to rebuilding lives in Kenya
by Elizabeth Harrop
11 April 2016
Read this article on the website of UNICEF ESARO
Jime, 17, and his three friends are on a journey: From war to peace; from South Sudan to Kenya; from childhood to adulthood.
Leaving family behind
Over the past two years, 1.7 million people have become internally displaced within South Sudan as a result of civil conflict. Almost 800,000 South Sudanese – half of them children – have sought international protection as refugees in neighbouring countries. Jime and his friends fled to Kakuma refugee camp in North East Kenya in early 2014, leaving their families and parents behind in Bentiu.
However, their journey will not end until the boys are happily resettled. Jime comments: “We came here to save our lives, we got lifts from drivers and met at the reception centre of the refugee camp. The peace is not good at home, so we are open to being resettled in other countries but we do not want to go back to South Sudan.”
Jime and his uncle Gatluck, 16, and friends Peter, 17, and Marco, 15, have joined 186,000 other refugees and asylum seekers in Kakuma. Half of those living in the camp have fled the conflict in South Sudan. Over 12,000 girls and boys have arrived in the camp as unaccompanied and separated children (UASC), resulting in one of the largest caseloads in the region.
Family tracing and reunification
According to UNICEF as soon as an unaccompanied child arrives their details are captured and a Best Interest Assessment undertaken so they know what protection services the child needs. They will be digitising the case management system and rolling out a new PRIMERO database (Protection Related Information Management for Emergency Response Operations) to improve the sharing of data with relevant countries in the region. This will greatly assist with family tracing and reunification (FTR).
FTR can be key to minimising the time children spend in a refugee camp. Kakuma camp will be 25 years old next year. The camp was established to accommodate 16,000 children and youth fleeing violent conflict in Sudan, with a maximum stay initially set at six years. However many families and individuals have spent the majority of their lives there – 10, 15, even 20 year stays at the camp not uncommon.
As the boys await news of their families, they are slowly settling in to camp life and getting used to their new home – a simple mud building with space for four mattresses on the floor. UNICEF has provided the children with dignity kits with items such as toiletries, and school uniform and clothing. However the organisation also helps keep children safe in the camp.
UNICEF is concerned that children without an adult caregiver are the most vulnerable to serious protection concerns including violence, abduction and child marriage. As well as ensuring children are registered on the case management database, UNICEF is helping to fund a new Children’s One Stop Centre and Child Friendly Space at Kakuma, so that new arrivals and child residents can access all the services they need in one place, including family tracing services, a counsellor, and recreation.
Finding a mother figure
Recreation is an important part of the boys’ lives – especially football. Marco comments: “We play football and have many friends. We are all from the Nuer tribe and rely on ourselves. In the school lunch break we have no time to cook, but we know a woman, Angelina, who we can talk to if we are troubled and who does our cooking for us, so we give our food rations to her. So it seems like we are alone, but we are not alone.”
Angelina, 33, also from Bentiu, South Sudan, lives at Kakuma a few streets away from the boys. Angelina is due to be assisted by a foster parent scheme run by UNICEF, where families take care of unaccompanied children from their own countries and ethnic groups. The foster scheme is part of finding durable solutions for UASC such as family reunification, foster care and resettlement.
However, before even knowing about the foster parent scheme, Angelina had already extended her huge heart and hospitality to the four boys, after meeting them at the reception centre when they all arrived at the camp.
Angelina comments: “War broke out and I had to get to a safe place. Neighbours sent their children with me when I fled South Sudan with my own children. I have four children of my own, another 10 children I brought with me from South Sudan, plus the four older boys who I cook for. So there are 19 of us altogether in this big family!
“If the children lack clothes or sandals I forage for wood to sell for extra money. I will not go back to South Sudan as it is too dangerous. My wish for the future is to manage the children and care for them and they will help me in future. It is all about family”.
Years of conflict in Sudan, then South Sudan as it became in 2011, means that Angelina and the boys have rarely known peace in their lifetimes. Even when peace has prevailed, development indicators were still among the lowest in the world, with children having little access to health care, education and adequate nutrition, and facing multiple protection risks including abduction and child labour.
Education at Kakuma
It is their education which means so much to the boys as they attend school at the camp. Jime comments: “The school is better here at the camp than at home. The text books are better and we are learning skills. The teachers here are qualified, not like in South Sudan. With schooling in Kenya we have a future. Here we are safe and have education”.
After completing his education, Gatluck has not given up on returning to South Sudan: “All of us want to be doctors, me and my nephew Jime, we also want to be footballers. At the moment peace is a problem, but I want to go back to South Sudan one day as a doctor to help my people.”
Photos: © UNICEF/ESARO 2015/Elizabeth Harrop