Since the outbreak of the civil war in South Sudan 4 years ago, on the 13th of December 2013, millions of South Sudanese have been and are still fleeing every day from brutal violence, extensive food insecurity and a lack of access to basic services. Handicap International is supporting civilians displaced within the country and the people who took refuge in neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya or Uganda.
The situation in South Sudan is unprecedented, 4.8 million people are food insecure and 3.96 million have had to leave their home . Handicap International is particularly concerned for people who may have difficulties accessing humanitarian assistance such as people with disabilities, older people and other marginalised groups.
Aleema Shivji, Executive Director of Handicap International UK, visited Handicap International’s programmes in South Sudan and Kenya this summer: “I heard horror stories about disabled people being left behind when their families fled the fighting.” she said. “The living conditions in the refugee camps and in the community are particularly difficult for disabled and vulnerable people. The threat of gender-based violence is constant, uneven and narrow pathways make it difficult for disabled and vulnerable people to access any basic and fundamental services, such as food, water, health.” explains Aleema.
Handicap International’s teams in Uganda bring assistance to some of the most vulnerable refugees in the Omugo refugee camp in Uganda. Refugee likes Joel, 71. His vision is blurred by thick cataracts and he walks slowly, using a wooden stick. Joel described to our teams how he returned to his village after the fighters came. Amongst the dead were several of his sons, daughters and grandchildren. He found one son with both legs mutilated and struggled to get him to hospital.
Harrowingly, Joel’s story is not an exception. The majority of refugees in Omugo have experienced violence, trauma and fear in South Sudan. As a result, rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other severe psychological conditions are alarmingly high.
Handicap International is providing psychological ‘first aid’ training to frontline aid workers, the first people to meet and take care of refugees. This is critical in order to identify and look after somebody who arrives in a state of crisis.
The majority of refugees arriving in border camps are women and children; they are often exhausted and in poor health, with alarmingly high malnutrition rates amongst under-fives.
In Ethiopia, Handicap International’s specialists are providing physical stimulative therapy to malnourished children. They get the children moving, thinking and playing again, otherwise they will not fully recover and may become malnourished again. Simply providing the calories and nutrients is not enough; physical stimulative therapy breaks the cycle of malnutrition.
In South Sudan, Handicap International provides protection, psychosocial and rehabilitation services. For instance, Handicap International operates a ‘flying team’ of a range of rehabilitation experts, which visits the most isolated persons that are difficult to reach to help them to access the support they need.