Return, recovery and reunification of the abducted children in Gambella

By Wossen Mulatu

Nyatayin Both, 25, Kuanyluaalthoan kebele, Lare woreda, Gambella Region.
25-year-old Nyatayin with her one year old daughter Nyakoch Gatdet at a temporary shelter for returned children in Gambella. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

GAMBELLA, Ethiopia, 25 May 2016 – When the attack on the village came, 25-year-old Nyatayin Both held tightly to two of her children, but the raiders still managed to kidnap the two others amidst the panic and commotion.

“I wish I’d had four hands to hold them and save all of my four children,” she recalled, describing the horrific day in mid-April in Ethiopia’s Gambella region when she lost her 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

In a raid of unprecedented scale, some 200 people were killed and 146 children were taken by raiders from neighboring South Sudan, widely described as Murle tribesmen. The Ethiopian military and the local Gambella Government have been negotiating for their slow release ever since.

For Nyatayin, it meant a miracle to see the return of her 9-year-old daughter Nyamuoch.

“At first it was just rumors that some of the children had returned, but later we were told by local officials to come and identify our children,” she said. “I was hoping to see mine, when I spotted my daughter among the many children standing in a circle, I was thrilled and praised the Lord and thanked the government for taking action.”

It was a joy tempered by the fact that her other son was still out there and of course the death of so many relatives that day, including her husband. So far 91 children have been recovered.

UNICEF is working closely with the Government of Ethiopia and partners on a response plan which includes reintegration, psychological support, basic health care and nutrition services as well as providing tents and clothing for each child.

Currently, the children are being cared for at a two-storey guest house of the Gambella Regional Government, where Sarah Nyauony Deng is supervising their care.

“When they arrive here, most of them were so silent and isolated themselves, but after some time, they start to socialize with others, play together and become cheerful,” she said. “Most of them also have injuries on their legs from the long walks.”

Nyamuoch Gatdet, 9 years, 1st grade student, Kuanyluaalthoan kebele, Lare woreda, Gambella region.
Nyamuoch Gatdet, 9 years, was one of the 146 children who were abducted from their communities in the Gambella Region ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

Flashbacks from the forest
Nyamuoch recalls that terrible day she was taken from her village that began at dawn with the sound of shots.

“I was still asleep and suddenly I heard gunfire and ran out of the house. I was filled with fear and anxiety,” she said. “I started running along with many other children and adults but they caught most of us and took us to a forest. Where I was, most of the abducted children were strangers except a boy I recognized from my village.”

Nyamuoch said they were constantly talking to them but none of the children understood a word. “I think they were trying to teach us their language,” she said. “I am so happy to be back to my family. My mother and I cried for a long time with happiness and now she is with me again, I am not scared anymore.”

Reintegration

Working with the president’s office and the Bureau of Women and Children Affairs, UNICEF has drawn upon a detailed action plan for child protection, including identification, documentation, psycho-social first aid and family assessments to facilitate appropriate rehabilitation services during reunification of the children.

Children in Gambella at the Presidential Guest House
Children in Gambella Presidential Guest House after their recovery from abduction ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tesfaye

“Currently, we are doing a needs assessment to mobilize resources for the abducted children and their families. Some of the children have lost one or both parents, some their cattle and some their huts as it was burned by the Murle,” said Ocher Ocher Obang of the Bureau of Women and Children’s Affairs in Gambella.

In addition, many in the affected communities are afraid to return to their remote villages for fear of renewed attacks by the Murle.

With the return of the rains, the displaced families need land to till, shelter to live in, as well as additional clothing and health care.

As the Ethiopian and South Sudanese governments strengthen their efforts to recover the remaining abducted children, UNICEF calls for the children’s swift and unconditional return to their families.

“I thought they would lock us in the forest forever,” said Nyamuoch. “When I grow up, I only want to do good things for humanity by becoming a teacher or a doctor – I will never forget this incident.”

 

African youth to African leaders: “You must do more to end conflicts in Africa”

Nyabon Guin (female) 3 years, Bilikum Kebele, Lare Woreda Gambella
Nyabon Guin, 3 is happy that she is back and reunified with her family in Gambella, Ethiopia after being abducted by armed men from the neighbouring South Sudan © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

GAMBELLA, Ethiopia/ DAKAR, Senegal/NAIROBI, Kenya, 16 June 2016 – African leaders are not doing enough to stop conflicts in Africa, said two-thirds of the nearly 86,000 youth surveyed in a recent mobile-based poll conducted in nine African countries.

Using a messaging tool called U-Report, the short survey was sent to 1.4 million mobile users in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Central African Republic, Senegal, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Guinea, from 18 May to 1 June 2016.

The U-Report users surveyed, who are typically between 15 and 30 years of age, were asked to provide their opinion on conflicts and crises in Africa through short multiple choice questions on their mobile phones.

The findings of the survey will be shared with African leaders on the Day of the African Child, which is marked every year on 16 June by the African Union.

“It is so crucial, and even urgent for the leaders to heed the voices of the youth, if we must silence the guns by 2020, as set in our Agenda 2063. This is flagship project to which the youth must also recognize their role and take their responsibility,” said the African Union Commission Chairperson, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

Key findings:

  • Asked whether African leaders are doing enough to stop conflicts and crises in Africa, two out of three respondents (70 per cent) believe that African leaders are not doing enough.
  • When asked why Africa is more prone to conflict than other regions, 56 per cent of respondents believe that ‘politicians fighting for power’ is the main reason while 19 per cent said ‘inequality’, 17 per cent said ‘poverty’ and 4 per cent said ‘access to food and water’.
  • What can leaders do to stop conflicts? Nearly a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) said a ‘strong economy’ while 20 per cent believe African countries needs to be more independent in their ‘foreign policy’, 19 per cent said investing in ‘good education’, 14 per cent said ‘talk to each other’, 10 per cent said ‘talk to other country’ and 9 per cent said ‘security’.

Humanitarian crises in Africa continue to spill over borders in recent years, with children and families increasingly on the move. More than 1.2 million people face insecurity in the Central African Republic due to a complex humanitarian and protection crisis that has spread to neighbouring countries.

Nearly 1.3 million children have been displaced by violence linked to the Boko Haram insurgency across Cameroon, Chad, the Niger and Nigeria.

Two years into the conflict in South Sudan, nearly 2.4 million people have fled their homes, including 721,000 living as refugees. Burundi is facing a protection crisis that has driven some 265,000 people to flee across borders.

“The lives of millions of children and their families are disrupted, upended or destroyed by conflict every year in Africa,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “This survey speaks to every child’s right to be heard and gives African youth an opportunity to express their hopes for the future of their continent.”

U-Report is a social messaging tool available in 23 countries, including 15 African countries, allowing users to respond to polls, report issues and work as positive agents of change on behalf of people in their country. Once someone has joined U-Report, polls and alerts are sent via Direct Message and real-time responses are collected and mapped on a website, where results and ideas are shared back with the community.

For more information on U-Report: https://ureport.in/

Children need peace for education, and education for peace

By Wossen Mulatu

Nyamat Oactoct from Pagak village in Gambella.
“We need peace. If there is conflict, I cannot follow my education properly and there will be no development,” Nyamat. Her five year old younger sister and brother are abducted to a neighbouring South Sudan by the Murle tribe. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

GAMBELLA, Ethiopia,  25 May 2016 – On April 15, hundreds of heavily armed men stormed through Nyamat Oactot’s village of Pagak in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region, stealing cattle, shooting people and kidnapping children.

The 16-year-old girl’s younger brother and sister were taken by raiders believed to be from the Murle tribe from neighbouring South Sudan, and have yet to be recovered. In the aftermath, parents across this part of Gambella have kept their children out of school in fear of further attacks.

“We need peace, if there is conflict, I cannot follow my education properly and there will be no development,” Nyamat said.

Ruey Tut Rue,15, lost his mother and brother and wishes he could bury himself in his studies to keep from thinking about them, but instead he has been frustrated by three weeks of school closure.

“I feel upset and my mind is not focused,” he said. “Reading complicated subjects like biology and chemistry is now helping me to divert my attention from thinking about my mother.”

The attacks have also destroyed school materials making reopening the schools even harder, said Paul Puok Tang, the head of the Lare Woreda (district) education office.

“The dropout rates have also increased,” he said. “Through UNICEF and government  support, we are now trying to rehabilitate the schools and purchase school supplies for the communities that are affected.”

Gambella Region is one of the states in Ethiopia that is part of UNICEF’s Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme (PBEA), along with Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz and Somali regions.

These four regions suffer from neglect and frequent exposure to man-made and natural disasters such as drought and floods and because of their close proximity to conflict zones. Since 2014, annual disaster and risk response plans have been put in place to help them cope with major disasters.

Ruey Tut Rue, 15, and 7th grade student, Pagak village in Gambella.
Ruey Tut Rue, 15, and 7th grade student did not go to school for three weeks due to the recent abduction of large numbers of children in the Gambella Region of Ethiopia by Murle pastoralists from South Sudan ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

UNICEF has enlisted the support of the African Centre for Disaster Risk Management to come up with disaster and risk response plans at 31 schools in Gambella and 13 schools in Benishangul-Gumuz to develop the capacity of schools and communities to respond to disasters.

In the case of an attack like the recent cattle raid, villagers are taught to know when the raids come and what to do with their children during that period, said Omod Abela, Process Owner of Planning and Resource Mobilisation in Gog Woreda, Punido Kebele (sub-district),.

“We know that it is a seasonal occurrence – they come between March and May following their cattle and we teach communities not to send their children to herd cattle during this season, but to keep them at home and study,” he said. “Also, we teach parents that children should not play in isolation but surrounded by adult members of the community.”

PBEA seeks to strengthen resilience, social cohesion and peacebuilding in the four regions through strengthened policies and practices in education.

In Gambella, over 1,200 educational officials have been trained to promote peace and social cohesion within the region through disaster planning, peacebuilding, combatting school-related gender-based violence and promote child-friendly schooling.

“Parents and children need to understand the value of education,” explained Tok Bel from Lare Woreda Education Office. “Out of school children are more prone to be involved in conflict situations. Even during the recent Murle attack, most lives that were saved were those of children who were attending classes when the incident happened. Education saves lives.”

Ethiopia started the implementation of the PBEA in October 2012 with the Federal Ministry of Education and the four regional education bureaus.

The programme, which ends in 2016, is integrated across UNICEF’s US$60 million Learning and Development Programme and is a global initiative funded by the Government of the Netherlands.

“Where there is peace, education will go well. Without knowledge and education, there are no doctors and without doctors, many people will die,” said Gatiat Wal Rik, 15, a student from Bulimkum Primary School.

A UNICEF immunisation campaign helps combat deadly outbreaks of measles and polio

By Elissa Jobson

Chou San Kote watches as her son Oratine Rase as he receives polio vaccination from Lemmi Kebede, supervisor of supplementary immunisation
Chou San Kote watches as her son Oratine Rase as he receives polio vaccination from Lemmi Kebede, supervisor of supplementary immunisation 24, June 2014 Pagak South Sudanese refugee reception centre, Gambela Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

GAMBELA, ETHIOPIA, 24 JUNE 2014 – At Pagak entry point, on the border between Ethiopia and South Sudan, a long line of parents and their children wait patiently in the intense heat of the refugee registration tent. They anxiously watch as four health workers swiftly administer life-saving vaccinations to the children ahead of them.

UNICEF, in conjunction with the Gambela Region Health Bureau, has rolled out a programme of vaccination for South Sudanese children seeking asylum in Ethiopia as a result of the deadly civil conflict currently raging in their home country. Since fighting began in December last year and the first refugees crossed into Ethiopia at the beginning of January 2014, UNICEF has helped vaccinate 91,785 children against measles and 74,309 against polio. A further 41,333 children have been given vitamin A supplements to help combat malnutrition.

“Registration and screening is done by ARRA (the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs) and UNHCR,” says Lemmi Kebede, supervisor of supplementary immunisation at Pagak entry point and Kule refugee camp. Priority, he adds, is given to pregnant women and lactating women with children less than six months old. “After registration, the children come to the vaccination point. Because levels of immunisation are low in South Sudan, eligible children are given vaccinations irrespective of whether they have had them in South Sudan or not. They are given an immunisation card which they take with them when they are transferred to the refugee camps,” Lemmi explains.

Health and nutrition
Meaza, a health professional gives a measles jab to a South Sudanese refugee baby being comforted by his mother in Pagak South Sudanese refugee reception centre. Gambela Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

Tesluoch Guak, just two and a half weeks old, is one of the beneficiaries of this programme. He cries as the health assistant gives him his measles injection. Despite her baby’s discomfort, his mother, Chuol Gadet, is pleased that Tesluoch is receiving his vaccination. “I understand that this is important for the health of my child,” she says.

So far, all the refugees have been willing to have their children immunised. “There is no resistance from the parents,” Lemmi confirms. “They are informed before they register as asylum seekers that their children will be vaccinated and why this is needed. There have been no refusals even though the parents haven’t previously received much health education. They have faced many challenges on the way to Ethiopia and they are open to our help.”

Chuol was heavily pregnant when she left her home in Malou county. She travelled on foot for days with her three children, aged 10, 7 and 4, to reach safety in Pagak where she delivered Tesluoch. Her husband, a solider in the government army, doesn’t even know that he has a new-born son. “The journey was hard for me. It wasn’t easy to find food and water. I don’t have words to express how difficult it was.”

The health situation of the newly arrived refugees is very poor. “In general, most of the asylum seekers are malnourished when they come from South Sudan. They have walked long distances without much food. Many have malaria and respiratory tract infections. They are really in a stressed condition,” says Bisrat Abiy Asfaw, a health consultant for UNICEF Ethiopia. This makes them highly susceptible to communicable diseases like measles and polio, he continues.

In February and March there was an outbreak of measles in Pagak – at the time more than 14,000 refugees were waiting to be registered and transferred to refugee camps within Ethiopia. UNICEF quickly rolled out a vaccination programme and helped ensure that children with signs of infection were quickly diagnosed, quarantined and treated.

“We were detecting new cases every day,” says Bisrat. “We tried to vaccinate all the children. We did a campaign on measles to increase and develop immunity within the refugee community.

The focus of the vaccination programme has been on the registration sites, although immunisation also takes place at the refugee camps. “Our strategy is to vaccinate the children as soon as possible after they enter the country, and that means working seven days a week. We are aiming for 100% coverage,” Bisrat says. And the strategy appear to be working. “The cases of measles has significantly decreased and we have had no reports of measles during the last 6 weeks,” Bisrat affirms.

UNICEF Ethiopia Supports South Sudanese Children with Vaccination Services

By Demissew Bizuwerk

Nyabiel Chamjock and her nine moth old daughter in Tergol.
Nyabiel Chamjock holds her nine months old daughter closer after he gets vaccinated. Nyabiel is one of the thousands asylum seekers, who crossed into Tergol town of Akobo Woreda, the Gambella region of Ethiopia that borders with South Sudan. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwerk

TERGOL, AKOBO WOREDA (GAMBELLA REGION)- Nyabiel Chamjock, a 20-year-old South Sudanese refugee, waits in line at the vaccination post with her nine-month-old daughter in her arms. She joins a long queue of other mothers with young children who are also waiting at the post to receive vaccinations. The growing queue is evidence of an effective community mobilisation campaign carried out in the last few days. In addition to the vaccination post where Nyabiel is waiting, three more posts have been made operational to cope with demand from the rising influx of South Sudan refugees. To ensure that vaccination posts are adequately stocked with supplies – two UNICEF boats regularly deliver vaccines. Nyabiel is one of the thousands of refugees who crossed into Tergol town in January in the Gambella Region of Ethiopia bordering South Sudan. Sadly, Nyabiel lost her husband during the tribal conflict between the Murle and the Lue Nuer tribes more than a year ago. She has recently had to face more tragedy. The eruption of violence in South Sudan, in December 2013, forced Nyabiel to flee into Ethiopia in search of safe refuge. After trekking most of the day on foot, clutching her child and a few selected belongings, she managed to cross the border.

Mass Vaccination Campaign for Refugees and Host Community
After waiting 30 minutes in the queue, Nyabiel’s daughter finally receives her required vaccines. She receives an injection against measles and drops to prevent her from contracting polio; she also receives vitamin A supplementation. In addition, her mid-upper arm circumference is measured to check her nutrition status. The chubby little infant looks surprisingly healthy despite the difficult conditions that her family is facing. Before Nyabiel leaves the vaccination post she is given a card confirming her daughter’s immunisation. She is also reminded that it is important to keep the card safe for future reference.

Nyabiel understands the importance of vaccinations for her child. “I know that my child will be protected from diseases after taking the vaccines. It is difficult in this area to keep a child healthy. As it gets dry and hot, children easily fall sick,” she said.

A four years old boy from South Sudan receiving a Polio vaccination in Tergol town   A child getting a Vitamin A supplementation in Tergol town.

UNICEF supports the provision of vaccination and nutrition supplements to children affected by the conflict in South Sudan
 

The mass vaccination campaign administered to South Sudanese refugees and members of the host community in Tergol, the capital of Akobo Woreda, is supported by UNICEF in coordination with the Regional Health Bureau. The campaign started at the beginning of January 2014 and more than 95 per cent of children have been targeted for immunisation.

UNICEF has prepositioned emergency vaccine supplies in the Gambella Region to ensure a timely response to the acute emergency needs of those fleeing from the violence in South Sudan and also to the vulnerable members of the host community. The mass vaccination campaign is crucial in preventing outbreaks like measles and polio. In the context of population movement across borders – especially in emergency situations – disease outbreaks can easily occur and prevention measures need to be in place to protect vulnerable mothers and children.

“This vaccination campaign is very important for the health of children both from the host community and refugees,” says Getachew Haile, UNICEF health emergency officer.  “It protects the children from contagious viral diseases such as measles and polio,” he adds.

In addition to the provision for vaccines against measles and polio, vitamin A supplementation is also given to children aged between six months and five years. Since the Gambella Region is prone to malaria, a distribution of mosquito nets has also helped to reduce the incidence of malaria morbidity and mortality.

Coordination Work
The emergency response to South Sudan refugees in Tergol is being coordinated by the Government’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and UNHCR. UNICEF supports the health activities of ARRA and UNHCR in partnership with the Regional Health Bureau. Adequate planning and functional systems have been put in place to manage human resource and logistic arrangements. In addition, health workers from Gambella town and adjacent areas such as Gniengnang, Wantowa and Tergol have received a one-day orientation.

With the support of the local administration, vaccination posts have been set up in locations that are accessible to the host community and refugees. Community mobilisation work has been an integral part of the vaccination campaign to ensure that community members and refugees are aware of the campaign programme and its importance to the health of mothers and children.

Head of the Akobo Woreda health office, Samuel Yien, acknowledges the impact of UNICEF’s support. He says that the emergency vaccination campaign is going well and that the activities are monitored closely. “We are grateful for the support we received from UNICEF. We are coordinating activities together and so far the campaign is good,” he added.

The Akobo Woreda (district) is the most inaccessible area in the Gambella Region. To reach the woreda capital of Tergol, one has to take an eight-hour boat ride from Buribe town- the last town accessible by vehicle. Accessibility problems make the role of UNICEF boats essential in delivering vaccines and other supplies to the vaccination posts.

Children are the most affected by the ongoing conflict in South Sudan. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwerk

Thousands of civilians, mainly women and children, have been affected by the violence that broke out in South Sudan in mid-December 2013. At the beginning of April 2014, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimated that more than 88,000 refugees crossed over the Ethiopian border through six entry points including Tergol, since the conflict began. These people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, including food, water and health services. Mothers and their babies are visibly weak after enduring the long trek to Tergol, while some of the children are malnourished. As the influx of refugees increases and puts food supplies under strain, the nutritional status of newly arrived children deteriorates.

Although some of the refugees in Tergol are being accommodated by the host community, there are still many more staying in makeshift shelters close to the Akobo River.

Nyabiel constructed her small makeshift shelter from sticks and rags to offer some protection from the piercing sun. Her new rickety home is shared with her child, her grandmother and a few scattered bags containing her belongings. She hopes better times await her child. She is keen to keep her daughter healthy and despite the challenges she faces – she is determined to send her to school because “an education will help bring her a better future,” she adds.