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Refugee kids continue lessons in Uganda's schools


Refugee kids continue lessons in Uganda's schools

Education does not end with exile. In fact, it starts in exile for many of the over 65,000 primary school-aged refugee children in northern Uganda. Even after they have been displaced by Uganda's own civil conflict, these refugee kids are given access to free primary education alongside local students.
9 August 2004
Sudanese refugee children settle in at Biyaya Primary School in Adjumani, northern Uganda.

ADJUMANI, Uganda, Aug 9 (UNHCR) - If there is any common ground that unites young Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda, it is their love of education. In their native southern Sudan, a region wracked by 21 years of civil unrest, school is generally an unknown luxury for most.

Fleeing from their homeland in the wake of attacks by armed groups in southern Sudan, many of the over 65,000 primary school-aged Sudanese refugee children in Uganda's UNHCR-run settlements found something they had been missing at home - free primary education.

However, access to this basic need was suddenly put in jeopardy at the beginning of the year. The refugees found themselves swept up in the brutal war that Uganda's own rebel insurgency, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), has been waging for the past 17 years. During this time, thousands of people have been killed and some 1.5 million Ugandans have been driven from their homes. The UN Security Council has strongly condemned the many atrocities committed by LRA fighters, and has expressed particular concern over the wide-scale abduction of children to use as child soldiers.

In February, the LRA began raiding UNHCR settlements in Adjumani district along the Uganda-Sudan border and suddenly some 30,000 refugees were on the move. UNHCR and its partners moved quickly to receive people in safer refugee settlement areas and get their lives back to normal. But the added pressure of 30,000 new inhabitants put an obvious strain on the existing food, water, sanitation, medical and education facilities.

The local government in Adjumani stepped in and played an important part in admitting refugees to national schools so they can continue their studies uninterrupted.

"When people are running for their lives, the last thing they think about is books, blackboards and desks," said Paulino Vuso, a headmaster at the government-run Biyaya Primary School in Adjumani. Vuso's school has recently added 300 refugee students to the 950 locals it had previously enrolled. "There are some problems with sanitation and feeding programmes but we should be ok with help from the local government, UNHCR and NGOs."

Father Frido Pfluger heads Jesuit Refugee Services in Adjumani. A non-governmental organisation that supports primary schools in refugee settlements, it has seen six of its 37 schools closed due to increased LRA activity.

"We have seen some great cooperation among the national community in the wake of this crisis," he said. "But I think it was natural for the government to lend a helping hand in placing these students due to the already solid working relationship we and the government have under the SRS."

SRS (Self Reliance Strategy) is a joint initiative between the government of Uganda and the UN refugee agency that encourages greater self reliance for refugees in Uganda's settlements. One of its priorities is to allow local children to go to school at UNHCR-sponsored primary schools in refugee-affected areas. This local/refugee relationship breeds mutual respect and makes it easier to hand over schools to the Ugandan government once the Sudanese are safely repatriated.

"It has been very easy for the Sudanese children to integrate into national schools," said Father Frido, adding that 2,800 had already been enrolled.

"It is always good for children from one place to talk to children from another place," said Vincent Mamawi, a Sudanese refugee and headmaster at Aliwara Primary, one of the schools abandoned in the wake of the LRA raids. "It's an excellent way for local children to learn first hand about the horrors and resulting problems the LRA creates in their own country. The refugee children have a lot of knowledge to impart."

By Dennis Duncan
UNHCR Uganda