New leaders: women of South Sudan’s camp speak

By Antony Loewenstein

The number of South Sudanese seeking refuge in the United Nations compound in Bentiu has risen above 100,000, the organisation has announced, making it the country’s largest camp for those fleeing the civil war that has killed more than 50,000 people since 2013.

South Sudan marked the fourth anniversary of independence from Sudan earlier this month, but the ongoing conflict between forces loyal to the president, Salva Kiir, and rebels supporting his former deputy, Riek Machar, has left little to celebrate.

Humanitarian organisations say they are struggling to cope with the influx of people to the camp, and conditions are grim as the rainy season — which runs from April to November — envelops everything in thick mud.

With the 100,000 milestone reached, three women living in the camp spoke about how they ended up there – and what they want for the future.

‘I don’t want to live alongside my enemies’

My name is Julia John and I’m 25 years old. I have three children, one-year-old Tuach, three-year-old Nyachiew and eight-year-old Nyawuora. I’ve been in this camp for 18 months. There was fighting outside my house in Bentiu town and we had to flee. My husband, Henry, is also here. Every day I am cooking, collecting firewood, getting water and taking care of my children. I hope for peace and the guns silenced. I will return to my home but I don’t want to live alongside my enemies.

I was hopeful in 2011, during our independence, for a South Sudan with no killing. I want to tell President Salva Kiir that many people have been killed and we need peace. As a woman in South Sudan, we are suffering because when we try to help our children, men can rape and kill us. When we go to collect firewood near this camp, government troops can get us. We are vulnerable.

I know some women who are getting treatment in Juba [the capital] after being attacked. In this camp, the UN supports us but we need firewood and charcoal because we have to leave this place to find them and that brings risk for us from government soldiers. I hope the UN and NGOs can address this.

‘We are not free in our own country’

My name is Tabitha Nyakuon Gai and I’m 36 years old. I’m from the Nhialdin area in Rubkona County. I have six children. I’ve been in this camp for one month. I had to walk two days to get here. My husband is fighting with the rebels and I don’t know where he is. I’ve had no contact with him since September last year. I miss him.

It’s hard to manage kids on my own. My husband fights a just war because the government has killed so many people. Every day I collect firewood and then sell it to make a little money to buy milk for my children.

In 2011 at independence I was happy because I didn’t want to be with Sudan anymore. I wanted to be free. We thought we should be united so it’s hard to believe that we are not free in our own country anymore. Hope disappeared in one minute. I’m worried about my kids’ future — there are no schools, and only the UN gives us food. If the UN leaves, who will feed us?

President Kiir has been in power for 10 years [Kiir served as regional governor before independence] so if I meet him I’ll tell him to leave office. It’s time to give the role to somebody else. Riek Machar has been waiting for so long, give him a chance and then after that Machar can hand over power to somebody else. It’s not right that one person holds power for so long.

‘Now there’s just insecurity’

My name is Nyaduop Machar Puot and I’m 37 years old. I have five children. I came from Boau village in Koch country. It took me six days to walk here. My cattle were taken and house burned. I had to flee. I had no choice. A government-affiliated militia attacked me. I saw women and children burned alive in a tukul [traditional South Sudanese home] by militias. When I saw people burned alive I knew I had to leave my village. I saw two people killed like this and they were my friends. My husband is still back in the village. I don’t know if he’s okay. He could not leave with us because he’s an old man with bad legs. I’ve been two months here in Bentiu.

When independence was declared in 2011, I expected there would be services for my kids and now there’s just insecurity. Today I cannot walk freely. I cannot help my children because South Sudan is at war and in a mess.

My message to President Kiir is that your turn is done. Let Machar take over. If Kiir doesn’t agree, both men should leave and not seek power. It’s time for new people at the top.

Compared to life in the village, life in this camp is safer. I still need shelter here because I’m living in temporary housing [her family resides in a flood-prone area of the camp]. The UN tells me it’s coming soon. I hope so because I need to protect my family.

from The Guardian (http://women.mg.co.za/we-need-new-leaders-women-of-south-sudans-bentiu-camp-speak)

Employment Programs Are Helping Syrian Women

A Syrian Refugee Woman and Her Daughter Outside Their Tent in Turkey (Photo Credit: EU Director General)

By Monique Tibbs and Nusaiba Mubarak

This article was made possible by the Study Abroad Think Tank project sponsored by Georgia State University.

Umm Muhammad called a small boy, who was no more than ten, to bring her purse, while repeating to us in Arabic, “I just really love girls.” Once the boy brought her purse over Umm Muhammad took out two pairs of silver earrings and handed them to us. It was a simple act of kindness for two guests, but it was also a gesture that took Umm Muhammad, a Syrian refugee living in Turkey, many hours of hard work to afford.

The Face of Syrian Refugees in Turkey Is Female

Syrian women, like Umm Muhammad, have been disproportionately affected by the Syrian war, which has caused over ten million people inside Syria to flee their homes. For over four years now, Syrian refugees have been arriving and settling in neighboring Turkey, bringing their traumatic experiences but little in the way of material possessions.

An estimated 2.5 million Syrian refugees are currently living in Turkey; seventy-five percent of this population is made up of women and children. According to various NGOs working with these refugees, many Syrian women have lost their husbands or other male family members, who served as sole wage earners. In 2013, AFAD (Afet ve Acil Durum Yönetimi Başkanlığı- the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey) found that 22 percent of heads of households outside of Syrian refugee camps in Turkey are women.

In the Turkish city of Urfa, we spoke to a group of widows whose husbands had been killed in the conflict and were living ten people to one house. They had made the journey to Turkey all the way from Deir ez-Zour, a city in the east of Syria, just two weeks before and were happy to be safe and together, even though their new home was an abandoned storefront with concrete floors. They proudly had their children write out the Arabic and English alphabet for us; one toddler began taking countless photos using our photographer’s camera.

Syrian Women Work Out of Necessity

Syrian refugee women, like these widows, have not only had to adapt to a new environment, but also provide financially for their families, without the benefits of an adequate education or marketable skills. Whether through their own will power or with help from NGOs, these women are finding their way toward economic independence.

Umm Muhammad is among many Syrian women in Turkey who independently provide for their families and have started small, informal businesses since arriving in the country. She created her catering company “by the will of God,” as she says, along with help from several young Syrian men, whom she refers to as her sons. After an entire day’s work, from 6:30 am until 10:00 pm, at her catering business, Umm Muhammad usually earns about 50 Turkish Lira (TL), or nearly $19 USD.  Though the sum may seem meager, Umm Muhammad is proud of the fact she has not taken a single lira from the government or received international assistance since reaching Turkey.

Umm Muhammad is not only supporting herself financially. She is also caring for her chronically ill husband, paying for his medicine (costing about 23 TL per day), and raising her three young children.

Umm Muhammad’s children are among the lucky ones. Thousands of Syrian children in Turkey do not attend school in order to work and help provide for their families. According to a private Syrian school in the Turkish border town of Gaziantep, only 12,000 of the 45,000 school-aged Syrians in Turkey are currently enrolled in school. UNICEF reports that in the countries neighboring Syria where many Syrians have fled, 73 percent of children outside of refugee camps are not enrolled in school.

NGOs Are Providing Marketable Skills As Well As Safe Spaces for Women to Socialize

Umm Muhammad represents an ideal of economic independence and self-confidence. But, most Syrian refugee women do not have the talents and resources Umm Mohammad enjoys. A few NGOs are responding to this deficit with programs specifically designed to help these women develop desperately needed technical abilities.

The classes and services provided by these organizations do double duty, as a safe space for women to socialize and obtain emotional as well as economic support. A local relief agency in Gaziantep, which asked to remain unnamed, reported that 60 to 70 percent of Syrian women in Turkey need psychological services, but have difficulty approaching counselors because of the social and cultural stigma associated with mental health problems.

In Gaziantep, several relief agencies are offering women both skills training and services in the beauty industry, including cosmetology classes and hair and beauty salons. A case worker at the local agency in Gaziantep said many women requested these educational and service provisions because hair care and beauty regimens were a regular part of their lives in Syria. In addition to developing their skills, these classes also provide participants with a safe space to discuss their problems, fears, and concerns with those who have experienced similar traumas and setbacks.

In addition to cosmetology, group classes on embroidery, knitting, and even nursing are also available to Syrian women in Gaziantep. For many women, creating items such as bed covers and prayer rugs with other Syrian women, who are facing similar challenges, is also a form of social support and indirect therapy.

The video below shows women in an embroidery class in the Gaziantep location of Takaful Alsham (Syrian Solidarity), an independent relief organization that operates in both Turkey and Syria. After the designs are completed, Takaful Alsham sells the products in local art exhibits and returns the full cost of the products to the Syrian embroiderers.

[Click here to view the 26-second video in a new window.]

Umm Muhammad is a symbol of entrepreneurship, independence, strength, and patience in a time of extreme difficulty. Her generosity and perseverance are reflected in countless other self-sufficient Syrian women who work every day to better themselves and their families in the most difficult of circumstances.

Whether embroidering in a group or running a storefront catering business, Syrian refugee women are retaking control of their lives and their destinies.

from Muftah (http://muftah.org/syrian-women-have-been-disproportionately-affected-by-the-syrian-war-but-employment-programs-are-helping-them-retake-control-over-their-lives/#.VaP9Z7VMCRk)

Population Day: Ugandan Refugee Crisis

By Ronald Ssekandi

SEMBABULE, Uganda (Xinhua)

As the world marked World Population Day on Saturday, Uganda is grappling with the worst ever refugee crisis it has faced in decades.

The global theme for this year’s commemoration is “Vulnerable Populations in Emergencies”. Refugees are vulnerable communities that if not attended to and yet their population is increasing can cause negative effects to the social and economic development of the country.

“This year we are focusing on the importance of protecting the rights of vulnerable people in communities and also in crises or humanitarian situations.

“We want to make sure the rights of women and girls are respected, they are not raped, they don’t get unwanted pregnancies and to make sure they don’t die while giving birth,” Esperance Fundira, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative told Xinhua here. Uganda’s World Population Day commemorations were held here in the central Ugandan district of Sembabule.

Uganda is home to over 460,000 refugees mostly originating from neighboring countries like Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Over the last five decades, Uganda has been hosting an average of 160,000 refugees annually but the recent influx of South Sudan refugees in the country has pushed up the figure to the current 460,000 refugees.

Many refugee women and children who cross the border into Uganda arrive while malnourished.

The refugees entirely depend on relief food until they are given a piece of land by the Ugandan government to cultivate on.

The provision of relief aid is frequently interrupted by the funding gap that agencies face.

According to UNFPA, the influx of refugees in Uganda is exerting pressure on Uganda’s health sector which is already operating at sub-optimal level especially in the host communities.

The agency argues that there is need to scale up the staffing levels and medical equipment at health facilities in refugees settlements and surrounding areas.

“Settlements cover over 40 square miles and yet existing health facilities are few and under resourced and referral hospitals are over 75km away from settlements,” the agency said.

“It is critical that the health facilities are strengthened with provision of critical staff (midwives and doctors), augment supplies and basic equipment and strengthening the referral system to sustain the high uptake of services,” it added.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a statement issued this week said it is in urgent need of resources to take care of the South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.

“The UN Refugee Agency’s appeal for the humanitarian response for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda remains severely underfunded.

“To date, just nine per cent of the 99 million U.S. dollars needed has been met,” the agency said.

“Current resources remain insufficient to provide vital life-saving assistance and services, particularly in the areas of health, education and livelihoods and environment,” it added.

Babatunde Osotimehin, UN Under-Secretary General and UNFPA Executive Director in a statement to mark World Population Day said there is need to prioritize health, rights and the full participation of women, adolescent girls and young people in public life.

“We must enable women, adolescent girls and young people to play their full role in peace talks, peace building and recovery, and to ensure that governments comply with international law and bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice,” he said.

“The world has to worry about vulnerable people.

“As we speak we have about 60 million people displaced all over the world.

“If there is no peace there is no development.

“Every country should care about the vulnerable people because they are also citizens and if they are empowered, they can contribute to the social and economic development of the country,” said Esperance Fundira, UNFPA Country Representative.

Despite the challenges faced by refugees, there have been efforts by the Ugandan government and humanitarian agencies to improve their livelihood.

“As UNFPA, we provide sexual and reproductive health services.

“We make sure women deliver safely, they survive during delivery and the babies also survive.

“We take care of issues of sexual and gender based violence because when there is a lot of pressure, there is a lot of rapes and sexual violence,” said Fundira.

UNFPA has provided support to 14 health facilities in western and southwestern Uganda serving the DRC refugees.

Over 6,000 women have been supported to access safe delivery care services.

This includes 481 women who were supported to access comprehensive emergency obstetric care services.

At least 6,900 women were supported to use family planning methods most of them for their very first time in their lives.

“Placing the protection and health of women and girls at the center of humanitarian response also makes communities more resilient and helps with recovery.

“Ensuring their health and safety therefore is not only a moral obligation, it is also a strategic investment,” said Fundira.

from Coastweek (http://coastweek.com/3828-Uganda-faces-refugee-crisis-as-world-marks-population-day.htm)