Southern Sudanese again seek safety at Kakuma camp

By Rose Karimi
Posted May 29, 2012

[Ecumenical News International] Violence in South Sudan and along the border with Sudan are forcing hundreds of families back to the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya where they lived several years ago.

The border clashes involve territorial control and resources. The violence between communities in newly independent South Sudan involves cattle raids, reports Lutheran World Information, the information service of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

The growing numbers are putting pressure on already-strained services at Kakuma, according to humanitarian organizations providing services there, including the LWF.

Established in 1992 to accommodate 90,000 refugees, it had 96,000 people by May 22, and the numbers are expected to reach 100,000 by the end of June. The new arrivals are mainly from South Sudan, with more than 1,000 registered per month since February, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) statistics.

The total number registered from Sudan and South Sudan is 34,000, second only to the 47,000 Somalis there.

The LWF is in discussions with the local authorities and UNHCR about taking part in the establishment of a new camp that is planned to accommodate the increasing numbers.

The LWF runs the reception center at Kakuma, where new arrivals are registered and provided with basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter and household goods. Many of the refugees have survived traumatic experiences and require psychological support, said Okello Arweny, LWF area coordinator for Kakuma.

“Support by professional social workers will make it easy for the majority of refugees to quickly settle down in the camp with fewer incidences of violence, community conflict and delinquency,” he said.

Through its Department for World Service (DWS) country program in Kenya-Djibouti, the LWF manages some of the services to refugees at Kakuma, which for more than two decades was home to mainly Southern Sudanese fleeing the conflict at home.

With peace agreements and independence in July 2011, tens of thousands repatriated to South Sudan, where the LWF also supports returnees.

DWS Director the Rev. Eberhard Hitzler, recently visiting Kakuma, expressed concern about the upsurge of violence between the neighboring countries. “Last year, we were hoping that after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement [in 2005] and the creation of … South Sudan, Kakuma would soon be empty and that Southern Sudanese refugees would be able to go home,” he noted.

The camp is now run down and needs funds to rebuild, said Hitzler. “I was deeply embarrassed when we visited a school building in which the LWF provides educational services. There were classrooms without books, old desks and chairs for half a dozen students while the classroom fills up with hundreds of students.”

“It is a miracle that teachers and students can still perform under such circumstances. But it is a shame that neither UNHCR nor LWF is able to find funds to improve these conditions,” adds the head of the LWF humanitarian arm.

Some additional help arrived recently. Through an appeal from the global emergency network ACT Alliance, of which the LWF is a founding member, US$58,000 was donated to expand kitchen facilities, pay additional staff and install water tanks and children’s play equipment.

Despite the difficult situation at Kakuma, Hitzler says he is heartened by the fact that students from 13 nations are learning to live peacefully together and to understand each other.

— Rose Karimi is LWF gender equity and human rights officer at the Kakuma camp.