Lamwo — The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) is stuck with a total 2,000 South Sudan refugee children across the three settlement centres of Palabek Ogili, Palabek Kal and Palabek Gem, all in Lamwo District. The minors entered the country unaccompanied.
In March, South Sudan nationals fled their homes after a renewed attack by SPLA against several militia groups in Imatong State, forcing several people to flee for safety.
In the process, several children lost contact with their parents and guardians who they were living with before the war broke out.
An officer at the Association of Volunteers International Services (AVSI), who declined to be named since she is not authorised to speak to the media, told Daily Monitor that the unaccompanied children are close to 2,000.
AVSI is an international non-gorvenmental organisation that offers medical services to needy people.
"For us here, we offer medical services to the refugees, but in the process we find that several children are just on their own," he said on Monday.
Currently, a total of 43,000 South Sudan refugees have sought refuge in the three settlement centres in Lamwo District.
The unaccompanied children are aged between four and 17 years and most of them are school going children, according to Palabek Refugee Settlement commandant, Mr David Wangwe.
"Initially, these children were being given to foster parents to take care of them, but some parents have instead abandoned them. We are trying hard to get for them other foster parents who can take good care of them," he said.
Food ratio and other supplies meant for these unaccompanied children are given to those who were identified to care for them, Mr Wangwe said.
Mr Wangwe said at the moment, the situation is worrying and as OPM, they are trying to get in touch with other refugees in other regions with a view to trace their relatives.
"We are also in touch with some people back home in South Sudan who could be having information about these children," he said.
The Palabek Ogili Sub-countychairperson, Mr Christopher Omal, told Daily Monitor that the issue of unaccompanied children needs to be addressed immediately since they are now stealing food stuffs from the community farmlands.
"My office has received several reports on the matter. Some children from the settlement centres have resorted to stealing from the community, something that has already caused tension on both sides," he said.
The Lamwo District chairperson, Mr John Ogwok Komakech, said OPM and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), should sensitise refugees about the benefits of supporting their colleagues, especially the needy as they identify their relatives.
"The OPM and UNHCR should make sure that the children do not interfere with the peace of the host communities. The locals also depend on farming as their source of livelihood," Mr Komakech said.
Recently, Christian Communications Centre (CCC), a local non-governmental organisation operating in northern Uganda, earmarked Shs350m to support children with special needs in the settlements.
The CCC spokesman and project coordinator, Dr Francis Ogweng, said a survey they did a week ago indicated that thousands of refugee children are currently abandoned.
"It is painful to see these children suffer without anyone to cater for their wellbeing or providing the required necessities in life. That is why we are moving in to support them," Dr Ogweng said.
"A shipment of eight containers is already on the way and we are just waiting for clearance from the OPM," he said, adding that solar lamps, beddings, cups, soap, clothing are among the items to be distributed.
Other unaccompanied refugees include the elderly and sick.
Every day, the camp receives an average 150 refugees from the three border points of Ngomoromo, Waligo, Aweno-Oliwyo.