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Newly arrived refugees from South Sudan at a water distribution point in Section Three of Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. Kakuma has experienced an influx of refugees from South Sudan who are running away from their country after fighting broke out in mid-December 2013. (Shim Yoo-Hwan, S.J. — Jesuit Refugee Service)

(Kakuma) February 3, 2014 — The situation at the Kakuma Refugee Camp is growing dire as more refugees are arriving each day. Agencies are grappling with a new need to find additional resources to respond to the current influx from South Sudan as the crisis there had not been anticipated. According to the Kenya Red Cross Society, a total of 13,064 new refugees have been registered in Kakuma, with approximately 100 new arrivals registered daily. More people continue to trickle in on a daily basis, with 216 refugees arriving on 27th January 2014.

This is despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 23rd January 2014. The numbers have leveled out for a while now and services have resumed for other activities which had been temporarily suspended. According to UNHCR, more than 646,500 people have been internally displaced in South Sudan, including 76,500 sheltered at the bases of the UN Mission in South Sudan, and another 108,000 people have fled into Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan as a result of the armed conflict which started on 15 December 2013.

The Jesuit Refugee Service Kakuma project has been present in this emergency with the other implementing partners to support the new arrivals as they adjust to their new situation. Psychological de-briefing sessions are being conducted at the Reception centers, and also in the new settlement areas. The majority of those who were received have been found to suffer from emotional and psychological distress such as loss and grief of loved ones, separation of families during flight, trauma occasioned by what they saw while at their home country and fatigue. 

The arduous journey of coming to Kakuma Refugee camp has exacted a heavy toll on their spirits and bodies. Counseling services have been timely as new arrivals  found a listening ear in the camp. Massage and reflexology services have also been extended to the reception facilities to alleviate the physical pains they might have encountered as a result of the long journeys they might have taken to reach the border point at Nadapal.

Outreach services, awareness campaigns and the setting up of a help desk in the new arrival areas has since been initiated and is already functioning. The help center will liaise with Lutheran World Federation to ensure that the refugees understand where they can find services in the camp. A further two tents (with the support of UNHCR) have already been established near the IRC clinic where they continue to refer and offer counseling to those in need.

On 27th January 2014, we had an opportunity to attend to the group of new arrivals from Nadapal border, at the old reception center. Non-food items including blankets, mats, spoons, plates and personal hygiene kits for females were supplied to the group and thereafter they were directed where to find food and shelter. Because they seemed familiar with one another and some of them were returning for a second time, the process was over quite fast. 

We have numerous cases being reported of family disputes, battery, sexual and gender based violence, abductions of young girls and boys. Agencies have an inter-agency coordination team that looks at and determines cases which require attention and action. The Safe Haven facility has received a few of such cases and is expected that more will be referred by other agencies over the year. 

The greatest challenges faced include the delay in finding durable solutions for gender-based violence cases, lack of adequate space to cater for the growing numbers, a reduction in the resources allocated for provision of food and non-food items, overstaying in the facility beyond the stipulated period. The JRS Kakuma project plans to expand the existing facility with the addition of five new units which will ease the burden of accommodation for women and children. With new arrivals and linguistic challenges, the project plans to train some members from the communities which are not represented in our staffing. The few members currently present are unable to manage the huge numbers seeking psychosocial support.

Early this year, a rapid assessment team which was headed by UNICEF, commissioned a study on the situation in the camp as a result of the new influx from South Sudan. The report indicates that more than 6,000 children have made it to the camp 90 of who are unaccompanied minors. Before the current crisis, Kakuma camp was host to 2,700 unaccompanied minors and 9,000 separated children according to UNHCR. 

Cases of children with disabilities have been identified in the reception center and the project is closely liaising with referring agencies to see how best to support them. Forty-nine children with cerebral palsy are in urgent need of nutritional support which we were offering in 2013. This category remains highly vulnerable and unless some support is received, they will find it difficult to cope with the harsh camp living. The increasing number of new arrivals puts a strain on our resources, but with more donor support JRS can cater for the needs of the most vulnerable among them.

As JRS continues to accompany and serve these new arrivals, it is our sincere hope and prayer that the situation in South Sudan will be resolved soon.

By Alex Kiptanui, JRS 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 north-western Kenya near the Sudanese border, the camp opened in 1992 and as of 13 January 2014, hosts over 120,115 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. 

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