Christian groups respond to growing Sudanese refugee crisis

A South Sudanese refugee female with a baby on her back carries a foam mattress to the communal tent where they will sleep, at the Imvepi reception center, where newly arrived refugees are processed before being allocated plots of land in nearby Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, in northern Uganda, on June 9, 2017. The number of South Sudanese refugees sheltering in Uganda has reached 1 million, the United Nations said on Aug. 17, 2017, a grim milestone in what has become the world's fastest-growing refugee crisis. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — Christian agencies and churches are stepping up and coordinating their efforts to respond to the South Sudanese refugee crisis, as the number of people fleeing across the border into northern Uganda reaches 1 million.

Over the past year, militia groups and government forces have defied calls to end fighting, and refugees are also flooding into other neighboring countries.

In Uganda, Christian relief agencies are moving to provide assistance to the nearly 1,800 people arriving daily.

“There is a lot of need,” Anglican Bishop Johnson Gakumba told RNS in a telephone interview.

Gakumba said his church in northern Uganda has been providing assistance in Palorinya, a camp of 300,000 refugees in the diocese, but limited resources have hampered its work.

The UNHCR, the U.N.’s refugee agency, last week said the 1 millionth South Sudanese refugee had crossed into Uganda. Agencies say that despite the deepening crisis, only a small part of the $1.4 billion needed by humanitarian agencies has been received.

It’s estimated that 60 percent of the refugees are children, including many unaccompanied minors who have suffered violence.

“This is a fast-growing humanitarian situation which we have never seen before,” said Benson Okabo, World Vision’s West Nile Refugee Response operations manager. “We are concerned that the donor assistance has been little.”

The refugees’ movement into Uganda is a result of a conflict that started in 2013 between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. Within months, it became a full-blown interethnic war, with soldiers loyal to Kiir’s Dinka tribe and rebels aligned with Machar’s Nuer tribe clashing in villages and towns.

Komakech John Bosco Aludi of Caritas said the agencies are coordinating their actions and “keep away from politics to focus on saving humanity.”

World Vision officials say they are trying to identify and care for the unaccompanied minors in the refugee settlements and set up foster arrangements.

Other faith-based agencies involved in the relief efforts include Catholic Relief Services, Samaritan’s Purse, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Finn Church Aid, Danish Church Aid and Lutheran World Relief.

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Fredrick Nzwili


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