(Kakuma, Kenya) January 22, 2014 — Kakuma Refugee Camp has seen a steady influx of new arrivals from South Sudan due to the conflict there. As the situation deteriorates, more and more people continue to flee their homes in search of safety. At the Old Reception center in Kakuma, tents filled with desperate families share their stories of the dire situation in Africa's youngest nation. South Sudan achieved independence in July, 2011.
Activities have been initiated to ensure basic amenities are provided, while medical personnel are on standby in the event of any outbreak of diseases. So far, five suspected cases of measles have been identified, and those affected have been quarantined at Lopiding Hospital, near Lokichoggio, a few kilometers from the border with South Sudan.
The flight of the refugees from South Sudan has not been without casualties. A seven month old girl who arrived at the border with her mother died from severe dehydration as a result of their long trek toward safety. She arrived at the border very weak, and upon diagnosis was rushed to the nearest hospital for treatment. This was a little too late. More children have suffered horrendous nights away from their homes and arrive hungry and in need of medical attention.
According to Hilda Thuo, an aid worker with Lutheran World Federation, more than 3,624 children had been received by 13th January, 2014, in the camp, and 328 of them are unaccompanied minors. The war has separated these children with their loved ones. More than 7,600 refugees have arrived in Kakuma from South Sudan as of January 13.
James*, from Bor, a town in Jonglei State, recounted how lucky he was to have survived the fighting which occurred in his area. He said the fighting broke out quite unexpectedly as he was going about his daily business in the town. He only managed to get his wife and children to a vehicle that was coming to the border., but his father was lucky too. They have since been re-united in the new camp site in Kakuma.
Others were not so lucky. James believes the war is going to cause a lot of destruction to the country he once called home. He has a temporary card which can allow him to access services in the camp, and once his registration is finalized by the Department of Refugee Affairs and UNHCR, he will be able to settle down; he prays for the end of the conflict.
"I have been reduced to a beggar, yet back home, I could fend for my family with great ease." He speaks with a glassy distant look hiding the thoughts running through his mind. “I would appreciate if I can find some work to be able to provide for the family. The food, water and firewood being supplied have eased this burden, but my children do not have any clothes. We ran away with nothing on our backs," he said.
Seated outside a newly erected tent is a woman who fled Juba, South Sudan's capital, with her one year old son. Despite her failing health, she is glad to have made it to the camp and away from the conflict. Her brother confirms that they were pupils in Hai Kanisa Basic Primary in Nimule Eastern Equatoria (a school that was supported by JRS, during its’ 15 years presence in that area of South Sudan), and had been visiting in Juba when the war broke out. He says not be able to go back to the school, and is despondent at the prospect of not continuing his education.
The number of children who are in the camp has risen sharply, and this will stretch available resources to the limit. With very little resources being allocated to respond to these emerging needs, the situation is bound to get worse. Yet, the refugees continue to put on a brave face while trying to adjust to the change in their lives.
Jesuit Refugee Service has already made arrangements to offer psychosocial support services to the new arrivals at the reception centers and the new site in the camp. Debriefing sessions have been conducted to help them heal from the traumas they might have suffered from while on transit to the camp. Two tents that were donated by UNHCR are currently being erected in the Kakuma 4 area of the camp and will serve as a temporary facility for providing psychosocial support to the refugees who might have faced trauma while running away from their homes. So far, counselors have been able to visit the new area on a daily basis to assess the situation of new arrivals upon their settlement from the reception centers.
JRS is also expecting that our Safe Haven facilities will be stretched to the limit if persons with security risks are identified and referred. The increasing number of new arrivals puts a strain on our resources, but with more donor support JRS can serve the needs of the most vulnerable among them.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity
By Alex Kiptanui — Jesuit Refugee Service Kakuma Project Director
JRS began work in Kakuma refugee camp in 1994 to respond to the thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Sudan. Located in northwestern Kenya near the Sudanese border, the camp opened in 1992 and as of December 2013, hosts more than 130,000 refugees. JRS provides refugees with the opportunity to build new skills for life outside the camp, through a psychosocial counseling and vocational training program, as well as support for primary, secondary and higher education.