By Sophie Shugg, Senior Child Rights and Protection Advisor, Plan International Australia.
World Refugee Day has always been a day I’ve been passionate about. Even at school in Tasmania, I would join protests at the shopping centre, sign petitions, and listen to stories from the South Sudanese community about how they came to be resettled in Australia.
The sheer scale of the refugee crisis always stood out to me the most: millions of people forced to flee their homes and decades of displacement with no long-term solution. These numbers were, and continue to be, overwhelming.
My first job in a refugee camp was in the Bhutanese camps in south-east Nepal. That really showed me a different side of World Refugee Day. The lead up to the day was always hectic. It took months of preparations with refugee communities deciding on how to celebrate.
The 20th of June is always a day with many moving parts – a day to celebrate the courage and fortitude of the persecuted, while at the same time shouting loud to the world that the fight for freedom is far from over. This requires a delicate balance.
This World Refugee Day you will hear so many stories of people who have been forced to flee and who struggle to find a place of safety, especially somewhere to call home.
These stories are hard to hear, but they must be heard.
We are currently witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record with 65.3 million people displaced and over half of them are children.
Because so many children are caught up in the refugee crisis, Plan International and the Government of Uganda are addressing one of the most complex and serious issues around displaced children.
This World Refugee Day, I want to highlight this serious issue.
Uganda currently ranks among the top three refugee hosting nations in the world and is now home to more refugees than any other country in Africa. There are over 1.2 million South Sudanese refugees in Uganda with 59% of this figure being children under the age of 18.
Every child has the right to a name and a nationality. Yet, children born into displacement are commonly denied a legal identity. This means their births are not registered, so they are invisible in the eyes of the law.
Unregistered refugee children are amongst the most vulnerable. They are unaccounted for, untraceable, and commonly unassisted. Unregistered refugee girls have no proof of their age and thereby face greater risk of child marriage, child labour, and child trafficking.
Every state has the responsibility to register births that occur within their territory. South Sudanese refugee babies born in Uganda are entitled by law to have their births registered.
To date, this is not happening. This is because birth registration services are not easy to access and the refugee community are unaware of their child’s right to be registered.
To help solve this big problem - right now, Plan International is working in Uganda in partnership with the National Identification and Registration Authority, the Office of the Prime Minister Department of Refugees and the local government to do mass birth registration drives in refugee settlements. We have issued hundreds of birth certificates to South Sudanese children born in Uganda.
These birth registration drives will promote every child’s right to a legal identity regardless of their migration status.
We must work hard to make sure all refugee children are granted their rights, freedoms, and opportunities to lead, learn, thrive, and decide.
So today on World Refugee Day, lets tread that delicate balance of remembering the millions of refugee children who live in fear, while we celebrate the strength and survival of these communities, their customs, and their beliefs.
Today we stand in solidarity for all the children and their families forced to flee for their lives every day.
To support our work with children caught up in crises, click here.