South Sudan: Regional Framework for the Protection of Refugee Children (February 2018 - December 2019)
The crisis in South Sudan enters its fifth year in 2018. As of 2017, the crisis had uprooted more than four million people, of whom 2.1 million were forced to leave everything behind and flee for their lives to seek safety in neighboring countries. In South Sudan 1.9 million have been internally displaced1 .
The South Sudanese refugee situation continues to be characterized as a children’s crisis, with 63 per cent of refugees under the age of 18. Over 65,000 children have made the journey across the border unaccompanied or separated from their parents or usual caregivers.
The humanitarian situation in South Sudan has significantly deteriorated, with the disintegration of the states, food insecurity, widespread inter-communal violence, and a situation increasingly complex due to the proliferation of armed groups. All this leads to displacement, grave violations of the rights of children, and cross-border movement.
Access in South Sudan has been increasingly hampered due to clashes, and critical funding shortfalls have considerably stretched operations in all six countries of asylum i.e. CAR, DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, hampering protection and response activities for refugees.
Many programmes have had to be scaled back to ensure the provision of critical life-saving support to the most recent arrivals, with an overwhelming number of refugee children. This protracted crisis is undermining the future of an entire generation of South Sudanese children.
Since 2014, child protection actors engaged in the South Sudan refugee response have gathered around an interagency Regional Framework for the Protection of South Sudanese and Sudanese refugee children. This framework outlines a common vision and agreed priorities for the protection of refugee children in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.
The initial framework was later on updated for the period from 2015 to 2017 to continue to support a coordinated and predictable response for refugee children through the provision of technical support on major child protection issues and challenges identified at country level. These include the capacity of the social workforce, communitybased mechanisms, and particular child protection concerns.
In 2017, the Regional Child Protection Network (RCPN)2 initiated a process to review and update the regional framework at country level: this was completed during a regional inter-agency workshop. During this process, common regional child protection priorities were agreed upon. This process was informed by lessons learnt and outcomes from the implementation of the previous framework, as well as current priorities, which were identified by the country teams.
By the end of October 2017, 2.1 million South Sudanese refugees were hosted in the region, including more than 2,000 in Central African Republic (CAR), 87, 000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 418,000 in Ethiopia, 111,000 in Kenya, 453,000 in Sudan and more than a million in Uganda.
546,000 new South Sudanese refugees crossed the border in 2017, of which 63 per cent are children and over 85 per cent are women and children.
Population movement has accelerated as the conflict has drawn on, with many seeking asylum after the outbreak of conflict in July 2016. This has created a challenging situation for host countries and humanitarian partners, who are addressing the needs of refugees who fled following the initial outbreak of conflict in 2013, as well as responding to the constant and steady flow of new arrivals into the six countries of asylum.
All countries of asylum have maintained an open border policy for persons fleeing persecution and armed conflict: prima facie refugee status is granted for new arrivals.
Uganda is pursuing a non-camp settlement policy. In line with the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), Kenya and Ethiopia are embarking on similarly inclusive approaches for recent arrivals, while DRC and CAR have already moved towards a system allowing refugees to access public services and local market opportunities.
Uganda received an unprecedented influx in 2016 and 2017, with a daily average of two thousand refugees. This led to the opening of nine settlements since July 2016: Bidibidi is the largest, sheltering over 285 thousand South Sudanese refugees.
Sudan hosts the second-largest number of South Sudanese refugees in the region, and has experienced a dramatic spike in the number of new arrivals since the start of 2017; over 186,000 people fled to Sudan as of 31 October 2017. This is the highest annual rate of new arrivals in Sudan since December 2013 - the start of the South Sudan conflict.
Ethiopia, already hosting a large refugee population, the majority from South Sudan, faced a new peak of arrivals in 2017 following the renewal of violence in Upper Nile, Jonglei, and Unity State. This led to the establishment of a new camp in April 2017 in Benishangul Gumuz, outside of the Gambella region, where most of the South Sudanese refugees are hosted within the country putting strain on host community resources.
In Kenya, most refugees from South Sudan are hosted in Kakuma camp. In 2015, the Kalobeyi settlement opened promoting a new approach vis a vis refugees focusing on their integration into county-level development initiatives.
A new and larger influx to the DRC followed the outbreak of violence in Juba in July 2016. Fighting in South Sudan near to the border with DRC persists and is hampering the emergency response. Thirty five per cent of the refugees are hosted in the two refugee camps of Meri and Biringi: the rest are dispersed along the border areas living within host communities. This refugee population continues to represent a major protection concern with risk of attacks and recruitment by armed groups from South Sudan.
Very few humanitarian actors are present in the refugee-hosting areas of the DRC, due to logistical and security constraints. In addition, these areas lack almost all basic and essential services, and the host community population lives in extremely poor conditions.