The children of South Sudan are among the most vulnerable on the planet, two leading United Nations humanitarian agencies said today, with a senior UN refugee official warning that the world’s newest nation cannot afford to lose a generation of children, “as in them lies the future and hope of the young nation.”
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in a joint press release issued on the second anniversary since violence erupted in South Sudan, called for all parties to uphold their commitments to the Peace Agreement to allow the almost 1.5 million children to return home and receive an education.
The Agreement also calls for child soldiers to be released and reintegrated. An estimated 16,000 children have been forcibly recruited since the conflict between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-President Machar erupted two years ago, and the killings, abductions and sexual abuse of youngsters have continued throughout the country.
UNICEF and UNHCR are urgently appealing to the global community for funds to provide shelter, education, health care, clean water, and other basic necessities for survival, as well as for the reintegration of children formerly in armed groups.
Over the past two years, the agencies said, 1.65 million people have become internally displaced, and more than 650,000 South Sudanese have sought international protection as refugees in neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.
“Two years since the current crisis erupted, South Sudanese represent the largest refugee population in the region, with nearly three quarters of a million people forced into neighbouring countries,” stated Ann Encontre, UNHCR’s Regional Refugee Coordinator for the South Sudan Emergency.
“With most of those displaced being children, South Sudan cannot afford to have a generation of children lost, as in them lies the future and hope of the young nation,” she added.
In South Sudan, children’s needs for medicines, food, and shelter far outweigh availability, and at least half a million have had their education disrupted, according to the agencies.
Neighbouring governments have generously opened their borders and provided access to available services, which, however, remain extremely limited or even inexistent in some settlement areas. In refugee locations, the enrolment rate for refugee children remains at a critically low 56 per cent.
Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director in Eastern and Southern Africa, said “respect for the Peace Agreement by all parties will enable children to reignite prospects and hopes for a dignified future.”
Also marking the sombre second anniversary of the conflict in South Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the country and head of the UN Mission there, known as UNMISS, Ellen Margrethe Løj, urged the parties to fully respect the permanent cease fire, and implement the peace agreement in “letter and spirit.”
She added that the delay in the implementation of the peace agreement is affecting the people of South Sudan, who have already known terrible suffering in the last two years.
She urged the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) to send their advance team to Juba to participate in the Joint Monitoring Commission and to engage in discussions on the establishment of the transitional security arrangements, including the Joint Integrated Police.
The top UN official in South Sudan said although humanitarian partners were doing their best, they were faced with challenges like raising funds, as well as lack of access due to poor infrastructure or insecurity or restriction by parties to the conflict.
Agreeing that there had been some mistrust of the peacekeeping mission, Ms. Løj underscored that UNMISS is impartial and does not take any one side. “We are doing our best to support the people of South Sudan who are in need … regardless of their political preference,” she said.
Ms. Løj said she hopes that 2016 would be important for South Sudan and could one day be referred to as the year “we can fully say we left the dispute and the fighting behind us and we rally on moving South Sudan forward and developing South Sudan’s economy for the benefit of the people.”