Tim Costello, Chief Advocate for World Vision, has been reporting back to Australia the dire situation in South Sudan and the resulting humanitarian crisis.
Two thousand people per day are arriving in Uganda from South Sudan. These people are running away from violence: raping, looting, murder, burning of houses and ethnic bloodshed. They choose to leave and simply join the constant column of people pouring further south and into Uganda.
60% are children, often unaccompanied by an adult; 9,000 unaccompanied children have arrived to date. Almost 2 million people have left South Sudan into neighbouring countries out of its total population of 12 million. These people are all refugees.
The psycho-social trauma of the refugee children has to be addressed on arrival in the camps. They have seen and experienced life’s gravest horrors. Faith in life has to be restored for them, belief that they are safe and that there are people who will care for them has to be reconstructed. World Vision staff engage in painting, dancing, singing and hugging as therapy with them. With love and protection, the children are nourished and their resilience is impressive. They can begin to believe that the nightmare is past and that they can learn to play and laugh.
The women and children arrive malnourished. The Sudanese conflict is producing mass hunger.
In stark contrast to our nation’s approach to boat people, Uganda refuses to close its borders to them. They have accepted 1.2 million refugees to date. On arrival, they are immediately given a hot meal. Within the first two days, each refugee is allocated a 30m2 plot of land and World Vision provides tools to work the land.
Uganda gives refugees all the same rights as native Ugandans, except the vote. The children can attend school and primary health care is provided. The Ugandan Government takes this approach because they were all once refugees too from the days of Idi Amin’s regime of terror. This is impressive humanitarianism on the part of a poor country.
Mr Costello commented on the toxic debate over boat people seeking to settle in Australia which has taken place here over the past 15 years. “It has damaged our soul. We have literally seen compassion leach out of our soul and that hardness and callousness, that lack of empathy is in stark contrast to the Ugandan Government. This shrinkage of the Australian soul is shameful.”