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South Sudanese Women and Girls Arriving in Uganda Traumatized from Sexual Violence; in Urgent Need of Assistance

KAMPALA- Ahead of the ‘Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees’ on June 22-23, CARE International warns of the alarming health and safety risks for refugee women and girls fleeing the continuous fighting and famine in South Sudan.

An average of 2,000 refugees are arriving daily into northwestern Uganda.

“The horror which South Sudanese women and girls have experienced in South Sudan due to the conflict and on their journey to Uganda are impossible to put into words. The majority arrive incredibly traumatized. Most walked for days or weeks through the bush without much food and water,” says Delphine Pinault, CARE’s Country Director in Uganda.

Since the spike in violence in South Sudan in July 2016, there has been a major influx of over 600,000 South Sudanese refugees in northwestern Uganda making it the lead refugee hosting country in Africa. There is now a total of 1.2 million refugees in Uganda with 900,000 from South Sudan. Women and children make up 86 per cent of the refugee population. Due to the impact of the conflict on communities and households, women often take on the arduous displacement journey to seek refuge in Uganda without male relatives, carrying and caring for many children on the way.

“Many women and girls are burdened not only with the loss of their homes and loved ones but also with the experience of rape, sexual assault and physical attacks they have either personally experienced or witnessed in South Sudan. They also often cite fear of rape as a primary reason for fleeing the country,” Pinault says.

As the humanitarian refugee response in Uganda is chronically under-funded, women and girls arriving in Uganda don’t receive sufficient food, water, shelter and other basic supplies.

“The significant lack of access to basic services is making refugee women and girls more vulnerable and reliant on negative coping strategies. Many don’t see any other way than to trade sex for food or engage in exploitative forms of labour. This perpetuates sexual violence, the risk of HIV or early marriages and unwanted pregnancies, creating even greater needs among refugee women and girls. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken,” Pinault urges.

Refugees not only need food, clean water, shelter and emergency healthcare but also urgent psychosocial care to address the trauma that they have experienced in South Sudan and during their journey to Uganda.

“Uganda has one of the most progressive and favourable refugee policies in the world. But 1.2 million refugees are putting a tremendous strain on the country’s resources and the international community has a responsibility to share this burden with Uganda,” Pinault says.

Upon arrival into Uganda per the refugee policy, South Sudanese refugees are allotted a plot of land for shelter construction and agricultural production. Refugees have freedom of movement, the right to work, to access social services like school and health care, but the system is stretched.

“For Uganda to continue its welcoming approach and keep its borders open, the country urgently needs more funding for the South Sudanese refugee response. We call on the international community to support the Government of Uganda and the UN’s call for $1.4 billion to urgently meet the immediate humanitarian needs as well as the longer term needs of refugees and the communities who host them,” says Pinault.

More than 20 million people are facing starvation in Somalia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen alone, in what is being called the largest humanitarian crisis in the history of the United Nations. Tens of thousands more are affected in Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

As a member of the Humanitarian Coalition, CARE Canada is part of an urgent national joint appeal for donations. For every eligible donation made by individual Canadians to registered agencies retroactive from March 17 until June 30, 2017, the Government of Canada will contribute an equivalent amount to the Famine Relief Fund, supporting humanitarian response in the affected countries and helping us reach more people in need.

To learn more or donate, Canadians can visit: www.care.ca/stopfamine

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To arrange an interview with a CARE spokesperson in Uganda, South Sudan or Canada, contact:

Darcy Knoll
Communications Specialists | CARE Canada
darcy.knoll@care.ca | 613.228.5641

About CARE’s work in Uganda:

CARE is focusing on protection of women and girls, including prevention of sexual and physical violence in the settlements and access to services for survivors of violence, including psychosocial support, health care and legal support. CARE is also providing urgently needed sexual, reproductive and maternal health services for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. For the most vulnerable refugees with special needs, CARE is assisting with shelter construction. To date, CARE has reached over 42,000 refugeeswith reproductive health and violence prevention, care and support services, and 1,600 with shelter.