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In search of safety: South Sudanese children travel alone to reach refugee camps in Darfur

© UNICEF Sudan/2017
Jonk Tonk Dack, 14, and his brother Lowal, 9, receiving care at Kario camp for South Sudanese refugees in East Darfur. The two boys recently fled their hometown alone, escaping both hunger and fighting.

By Omer Musa Omer

EAST DARFUR, Sudan, 27 July 2017 – Fourteen-year-old Jonk Tonk Dack, and his brother Lowal, 9, are from Kair, Bahar Arab, South Sudan. The two boys recently fled their hometown alone, escaping both hunger and fighting. They were headed for Kario camp in East Darfur.

After walking for more than three days, they were frail and exhausted. It became clear that the children would not be able to reach the camp alone, as it was still a day and half drive away.

The boys finally caught a bit of luck when a lorry passed by, carrying other South Sudanese refugees. The passengers pleaded with the driver and to stop – and he did. Jonk and Lowal arrived at Kario camp on 1 March 2017, weak, but glad to have reached safety. “The camp is better and safer than South Sudan and I don’t want to go back,” said Jonk.

Both children were immediately registered as unaccompanied or separated children by the State Council of Child Welfare. With support from UNICEF, they received care, support, immunization and other services at the Child Friendly Space recently constructed with support from Germany.

Today, Jonk and Lowal are living with a foster family at the camp, and have received clothes and blankets. Their new foster family receives cash support to help take care of the children, thanks to support from Germany.

© UNICEF Sudan/2017
Children playing at a UNICEF-supported child friendly space. The spaces are a place for children to play and make friends, as well as receive psychosocial, life skills and recreational support.

A growing influx of refugees

Jonk and Lowal are among the 165 unaccompanied and separated South Sudanese children receiving child protection services in the Kario and Khor Omer camps in Darfur.

Over 155,000 refugees from South Sudan have taken refuge in Sudan since the start of the year, including about 100,000 children.  With the continued conflict in South Sudan and widespread food insecurity, Sudan expects to receive three times as many refugees in 2017 than what was expected at the beginning of the year.

“The growing influx of refugees from South Sudan and over 2.3 million internally displaced people increases the burden on the already stretched resources of host communities. Children continue to be the hardest hit,” said UNICEF Sudan Representative, Abdullah Fadil. “Immediate and sustained support is crucial to provide them with timely and lifesaving humanitarian response, especially in the water, sanitation, health and nutrition sectors.”

© UNICEF Sudan/2017
Regina, 14, is registered at the UNICEF-supported child friendly space in Khor Omer Camp, East Darfur. Today, Regina is living with a foster family and has been enroled in school.

Beginning to recover

A year ago, 14-year-old Regina Mnal made a journey similar to Jonk and Lowal’s, leaving her home town of Wan Jok in South Sudan to travel to Khor Omer camp in East Darfur, where she was registered as a separated child.

“Back in South Sudan, I was taking care of my family’s cattle. We didn’t have enough food and I was not able to attend school because of the conflict,” she recalls.

Today, Regina is living with a foster family and has been enroled in school. She also goes to a UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Space, where she has a chance to play and make friends, while also receiving psychosocial, life skills and recreational support.

“The ‘maos’ and ‘khaltos’ (uncles and aunts) are very nice and friendly. They encourage me especially when I remember my parents back in South Sudan and I am sad,” she said.

UNICEF’s support to South Sudan Refugees to date:

  •  90,000 children have been screened for malnutrition and 1,713 treated for severe acute malnutrition.
  • Some 60,000 school aged children are in need of education support and UNICEF is currently reaching 10,000. 
  • 5 sustainable water treatment systems were constructed in five South Sudanese refugee camps in White Nile, which benefited over 118,000 persons (comprising both refugees and members of the host community).
  • Around 8,560 children are receiving child protection services, including psychosocial support in White Nile, West Kordofan and East Darfur states, through more than 90 trained animators, social workers and teachers.

Read next:

One year on: a community in Darfur built from the ashes

In North Darfur, Child Friendly Spaces bring happiness and stability in the shadow of conflict

Displaced in South Sudan

“I still don’t understand how we stayed alive”

Humanitarian action for children: Sudan



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