Protection and well-being of adolescent refugees in the context of a humanitarian crisis: Perceptions from South Sudanese refugees in Uganda

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Improved understanding of refugees’ perceptions of provision of humanitarian support in these contexts is important to improve design and delivery of humanitarian assistance. Refugee adolescents displaced to low and middle-income countries face a range of adversities. Globally, refugee situations are increasingly characterized by multiple waves of displacement; phase of displacement likely influences risk factors for adolescent refugees. However, evidence is sparse concerning perceptions of the impact of these factors on health and well-being of adolescent refugees. We conducted a qualitative study in November 2016, using focus group discussions [FGDs] with caregivers and adolescent refugees (n = 325: 183 adolescents and 142 caregivers).

The study was conducted in two refugee settlements in Uganda (Kiryandongo and Adjumani), which were experiencing a major influx of new refugees from South Sudan. We sought to explore one potential influence on adolescent well-being – the impact of the new influx of refugees from South Sudan on protection risks and well-being of adolescents already settled in Uganda. Themes that emerged indicate that caregivers and adolescents perceived the influx as directly impacting access to basic needs, which had direct and indirect impacts on adolescent psychosocial well-being, for example, educational attainment was impacted due to adolescent hunger while attending school. Lack of food security was described as associated with caregiver use of violence against adolescents, due to stress related to deterioration of household well-being. The immediate basic needs of newly arrived refugees – which are often urgent and life-threatening – may eclipse the on-going needs of previously settled refugees in a context of multiple waves of displacement and continuous conflict. Policy implications of findings in this study include the need to understand conflict and divisions within refugee populations and provide support for community-based protection mechanisms to ensure that changes in humanitarian support do not adversely impact adolescent protection needs.

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