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The Majority are Children

Refugees arriving by UNHCR truck at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Photo: NCCK

January 21, 2014

By Suzanne Rumsey

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Interview with Raphael Nyabala, NCCK, Kenya
January 17, 2014 

Half a world away but right there on the computer screen, PWRDF partner Raphael Nyabala, Camp Coordinator for the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) at Kakuma Refugee Camp, appears through Skype video.  It is 9:30pm in Kakuma and Raphael has spent the day touring the camp, meeting with NCCK staff and volunteers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials and international NGO representatives, and seeing the site being constructed for the camp’s new arrivals.  The situation in the camp is quickly becoming overwhelming, but Raphael maintains the same measured, thoughtful calm we came to know when he visited Canada last fall. 

What amounts to a civil war is raging in the newly-minted country of South Sudan on Kenya’s northern border and for the past two weeks 500 to 700 refugees have been arriving every day in Kakuma, situated just 125 km south of that border.  Since violence broke out in South Sudan on December 15, 2013, over 413,000 people have been internally displaced and over 27,000 have fled to neighbouring countries including Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.  9,800 of those refugees have arrived in Kakuma.  According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Response (OCHA), “About 80 per cent of the South Sudanese refugees are children and aid agencies are concerned about their wellbeing and safety.” 

This official report is confirmed by Raphael who states that the vast majority of those arriving are women, children and the elderly.  The men he explains, are fighting in the war, have been killed or, in the case of young men, have been conscripted by one side or the other in the conflict. 

“The wave of refugees is straining the coping mechanisms of neighbouring countries,” states the OCHA.  Raphael confirms that regular supplies for the camp– already bursting with over 129,000 refugees– are being diverted to meet the needs of the new influx of refugees and that all other work is on hold.  Two hundred temporary shelters a day are being erected.  2,000 shelters in total are now in place out of an initial emergency target of 5,000, with supplies for further shelter construction available for only one more week.  As Raphael points out , the problem is a lack of finances to purchase more supplies rather than their availability.

The Government of Kenya through their Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) and the UNHCR has managed to secure land to extend the camp site for 20,000 to 22,000 more refugees, but given the rate of refugee arrivals that land will be filled within the next month and a contingency plan for yet more land will be needed. 

The lack of resources is creating social pressures in the camp.  The water supply is limited, and some  water is having to be trucked in.,Inadequate shelter and overcrowding– especially in the reception area– creates the environment for potential conflict and gender-based violence.   

The UNHCR is providing transportation from the South Sudan/Kenya border in order to avoid exploitation by local transporters, but Raphael explained that the desperation of the refugees is such that a knife fight had to be averted on one truck when a refugee perceived that his “place” had been taken by another.   

In addition, while the conflict in South Sudan is largely political, it is exacerbating ethnic tensions between the Dinka and Nuer peoples, and those tensions are likely to be brought to the camp.  

In the midst of this crisis situation, Raphael and his team are working hard with the UNHCR and other agencies to try to provide safe accommodation, food, health services, social services and education for the many children who are arriving.  Education is also needed to address gender-based violence and the growing number of people with HIV and AIDS arriving in the camp.  

When asked what his message to the Canadian government would be, he called for concrete support for the refugee operation in Kakuma including land preparation for settlement and construction of dwellings for the asylum seekers, education resources to enable them to continue studying and livelihood support programs for those needing to work.  Raphael also asked Canadian Anglicans to contribute to efforts to “preserve and sustain the lives of asylum seekers who have fled the war in South Sudan.”  

Most of all he asked for our prayers for the refugees and those who seek to “welcome the stranger” half a world away. 

You can donate to PWRDF’s relief efforts through the ACT Alliance  for those fleeing violence in South Sudan:

You can designate your online donation for “South Sudan Conflict”.

By Phone
For credit card donations contact:
Jennifer Brown
416-924-9192 ext. 355;       1-866-308-7973
Please do not send your credit card number by email or fax.

By Mail
Please make cheques payable to “PWRDF”, mark them for “South Sudan Conflict” and send them to:
The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund
The Anglican Church of Canada
80 Hayden Street
Toronto, Ontario  M4Y 3G2

PWRDF Donations Contact:
Jennifer Brown
416-924-9192 ext. 355;       1-866-308-7973

PWRDF Humanitarian Response Coordinator
Naba Gurung
416-924-9199 ext. 321;       1-866-308-7973


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