Physical space and timely protection support for children are among the most pressing needs in north-western Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp amid a continuing flood of people, for the most part minors, fleeing conflict in South Sudan, IRIN has reported, reports CISA.
Since the eruption of hostilities in mid-December, some 36,450 people have crossed the border between the two countries. Some 750 of those arriving in Kenya were children who fall into the category of unaccompanied; which means they arrived with no parents or adult relatives.
More than 5,000 were “separated” which means they arrived with an adult relative who was neither a parent nor a usual caregiver.
The flooding in arrivals and high proportion of children among them, plus shortfall in case management workers has resulted to a stretch in period of assessment of children’s needs, such as psychosocial support, tracing family members, foster care, and other protection needs, to around two months.
“This is an extremely urgent situation,” said Stephanie Shanler, a child protection specialist with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“About a third of separated or unaccompanied children need follow-up care to ensure they are safe in their new environment and are receiving appropriate support, including psychosocial support,” said Shanler.
“Many of these children have seen a lot of tragedy, possibly the murder of their parents or neighbours. They are holding on to a lot of trauma. We need to catch that early, and ensure that community psychosocial mechanisms are in place, as well as higher level treatment options.”
“We also need to ensure that alternative care options are in place for unaccompanied children. Scaling up Kakuma’s case management system is a priority in screening children for these protection concerns and ensuring they receive the help they need,” she said.
According to UNHCR, 71 percent of new arrivals are under the age of 18; almost a quarter are under five. This was released on May 13 by the UN Refugee Agency.
Kakuma camp has around 16,000 more residents than its capacity of 150,000.
“We’re frantically trying to get more land to resettle new arrivals,” said Catherine Wachiaya, a communications officer with UNHCR.
“Providing enough water is proving to be very difficult and overcrowding means outbreaks of malaria and cholera are expected when the rains start,” she said.
The continued surge in arrivals makes it difficult to maintain a high standard of humanitarian assistance.
“There continues to be a strain on amenities such as water, shelter and firewood and particularly, at the newly established Kakuma 4 camp,” said one official with an NGO supporting refugees, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“There are currently just a few temporary schools, hospitals catering for an extra 15,000 people. Insecurity too, is increasingly becoming a challenge,” she said.
Before the current crisis in South Sudan, new arrivals in Kakuma generally stayed in tents for up to four weeks before being provided with materials with which to construct more permanent dwellings. Now, however, many of those who arrived in December are still in tents.