Support for South Sudan Refugees
By David Tereshchuk*
May 14, 2012 -- As the international community prepares to mark World Refugee Day next month (June 20th), refugees themselves confront the daunting challenges of daily life in encampments.
One such temporary home to at least 8,000 refugees is Lasu, in South Sudan, which the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) helps to support.
In 2009, attacks by the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army rebel movement, originally from Uganda, in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo drove thousands of Congolese fleeing for their lives across the border to what is now South Sudan.
They ended up in Lasu, and are still there, where UMCOR and its partners work to better the lives of the uprooted families. The work, supported by ongoing grant funds from the Bureau of Populations, Refugees and Migration (PRM), U.S. Department of State, concentrates on children’s education – including developing the capacities of Parent Teachers Associations, and on an extensive Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) program. This vital effort in support of refugees’ health has involved increasing access to safe water and hygiene promotion - and still more are needed – as well as training camp Water Committee members.
UMCOR also aids the development of a stronger infrastructure to provide health care in this territory where communications are difficult. The agency’s partners include notably, PRM, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and ACROSS, the East Africa-based international Christian organization that has long focused on South Sudan. The United Methodist Church also contributes to this project by providing material resources such as school kits and health kits, through its relief supply depot, UMCOR Sager Brown in Baldwin, La.
As in many a refugee camp, problems confronting residents include the maintenance of positive relations with the local host community. UMCOR has placed great emphasis on ensuring that, for instance, school provision outside the camp is always considered as well as new schools inside the perimeter.
Since the beginning of this year (2012), food supplies for the entire area have come under increasing strain, for both newcomers and the region’s established population. The UN’s World Food Program has been forced to curtail its monthly food rations, because of greater demand in the border area adjoining Sudan – once again an area of violent conflict. WFP rations are arriving in amounts less than half of the minimum food requirement for the Lasu refugees.
Both refugees and local people naturally try to grow their own food, on the meager plots of land available to them, and UMCOR is hoping to raise funding to support an initiative that could boost the home-growing of food crops.
“The refugees have no seeds, no tools, and no inputs like fertilizer,” says Kathryn Paik, UMCOR’s Program Officer for South Sudan.
Without such help the yield from the tiny pieces of land that camp residents are able to rent are not enough to support their families – and consequently children are sometimes sent out to forage for food. This compounds the challenges to education, too, since school attendance may be reduced.
“The most critical need is food security for this group of refugees,” says Paik, “and this is what we are determined to tackle in the next phase of our assistance”.
Gifts from United Methodist churches toward this work may be leveraged with other grant funds that could be used to provide more services to those living in the camps.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst and a regular contributor to umcor.org.