World Refugee Week: MAF explores new ways to help

Published: 15 Jun 2015

World Refugee Week: MAF explores new ways to help

It's World Refugee Week and the world's attention is drawn to the plight of those who have had to flee their homes mostly in fear of unrest or hunger. 

But have you ever thought about the logistics behind running a refugee camp?

Aid agencies can only help if a regular supply of workers and vital supplies are able to reach the camps. That's why many agencies look to MAF to help.

Read stories of displaced people in South Sudan

MAF is assessing fresh ways to support the refugee camps, including these situations in Uganda and Kenya.

The old overgrown airstrip in Adjumani

Surveying the old airstrip at Adjumani, Uganda | MAF

Over in Uganda, thousands of refugees are arriving daily to Adjumani, a remote town in an inhospitable corner in the north.

Because the River Nile acts as a natural barrier, Adjumani is fast becoming the main centre in the developing refugee crisis for those fleeing violence and food shortages in nearby South Sudan. Nearly 100,000 people have made the journey and now call Adjumani 'home'.

So when we were approached about the possibility of reopening the old airstrip to serve the NGOs working with the influx of refugees, our two pilots Dallas Derksen and Dave Forne flew to Gulu and travelled the rest of the way overland.

Adjumani, Uganda | MAF

They went to see if an old, overgrown airstrip could be put back into use to serve the refugees.

Dallas and Dave conducted a thorough survey of the airstrip and met with the Lutheran World Federation and the United Nations agencies UNHCR and UNICEF.

Dave says, 'We were amazed to hear the number of refugees in Adjumani now totals almost 100,000, with an additional 150 a day still coming from South Sudan. There will probably be several hundred thousand refugees there by the end of the year. Yet travel to and from Adjumani remains difficult overland'.

MAF | Discussions at Adjumani refugee camp, Uganda

'Adjumani, is reached by bumpy, dusty and dangerous overland routes which involves a several hour long drive to Gulu where, if you're lucky, you can catch a bus for the long and often terrifying ride to Kampala. Dave writes. 'The high demand means the buses are already sold-out and full by Wednesday for the following weekend. Flights directly to and from Adjumani will not only be much faster, but significantly safer and more convenient.'

It's no wonder that the UN, missions and NGOs have asked if we can provide a safe, regular service as soon as possible. Hopefully we'll be able to do so – glorifying God by providing time-saving flights to serve those serving the many South Sudanese suffering the effects of war, hunger and disease.

UNHCR supplies at Adjumani Refugee Camp, Uganda | MAF

Serving in Kakuma

In Kakuma Refugee Camp in NW Kenya, many NGOs frequently encounter logistical challenges in accessing and bringing staff and supplies to the area.

In response, MAF's Kenya Country Director Steve Machell and Partnership Development Officer Jechoniah Musembi flew to Kakuma to see if we can help.

MAF aircraft at Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya

The second-largest refugee camp in Kenya, Kakuma opened in 1992 and currently serves 180,000 people who have fled violence and wars in nearby countries (primarily Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan). Sadly, those escaping their homes are not always able to leave conflict behind; following an influx of new refugees from South Sudan late last year, tensions between the Dinka and Nuer communities inside the camp rose, tragically mirroring the crisis from which they had fled. Eventually the dispute erupted into violence which led to eight deaths.

The incident was a stark reminder that fear and insecurity can continue for those who have been displaced.

More than 30 agencies

Kakuma Refugee Camp, NW Kenya. Photo credit: MAF

Over 30 different aid, development and mission organisations, both governmental and NGOs, currently work at Kakuma, offering services ranging from education and sustainable livelihoods to child protection, water and sanitation access and healthcare. Long-term MAF partner Lutheran World Federation is one of the lead agencies in the camp, and coordinates the activities of thirteen other partners. During their visit, Steve and Jechoniah put their networking skills to good use and were able to make a number of new connections, to explain the services MAF can offer and to start exploring the potential for developing new partnerships.

All partners great and small

The agencies at Kakuma vary greatly in their size and focus. The International Rescue Committee has 120 staff (and a further 1,300 refugees which they employ locally), who are rotated back to Nairobi for regular breaks from the highly-stressful environment in the camp.

Similarly, the Windle Trust, a UK-based charity providing access to education and training for those affected by conflict, has a significant number of staff in Kakuma who provide intensive English programmes. When Steve and Jechoniah visited, a hundred students were at an application day for these courses which will ultimately enable them to access training, employment and community leadership roles.

WFP food supplies at Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya | MAF

At the other end of the scale, NGO IsraAID, which helps people overcome extreme crises by supporting physical and psychological needs through intensive and trauma training and relief distributions, has only eight employees at Kakuma; while international organisation FilmAid, which aims to restore hope and provide education and inspiration through the medium of film, has just five.

Safe and reliable

Although the United Nations and the European Commission operate regular flights to and from Kakuma, several agencies told Steve and Jechoniah that securing a seat was never easy. 'It was good to visit many current and potential partners, and to discuss how MAF may be able to assist in reaching these isolated refugees,' commented Steve.