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South Sudan refugees don Northern Ireland hockey club colours for peace cup

A Co Down hockey club is helping bring refugees from the civil war raging in South Sudan together.

Bangor Hockey Club has donated more than 120 sports kits to a refugee camp in northern Uganda, which is home to 60,000 people who have fled conflict across the border in war-torn South Sudan.

The United Nations has said the number of refugees from the conflict has reached one million, in a grim milestone for what has become the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

The sports kits are being used by young people taking part in the ‘Peace and Reconciliation Cup’, a tournament at the camp which is using soccer to help heal division and tension.

The donation was made possible by local charity CMS Ireland (Christian Mission Society), an organisation working with churches in Africa and Asia. 

Through their local partners in Uganda, the kit was distributed to local church leaders in the camp.

Lack of education, food shortages, inadequate medical services and scarcity of building supplies are all huge challenges. A major concern is the lack of constructive activities, making young people easy prey for rebel recruitment.

Andrew Gowdy from Bangor Hockey Club said: "The club had many kits that were no longer going to be used. We really wanted to donate them to a charity that would be able to give them to people who are most in need.

"Through CMS Ireland, we were able to send them to Uganda and to help refugees from South Sudan.

"It was fantastic to see pictures of the people in the camp playing sport in the kit and as a club we are delighted to have made a small, positive difference to the lives of the people there."

An average of 1,800 South Sudanese citizens have been arriving daily in Uganda over the past 12 months, the UNHCR said.

"Recent arrivals continue to speak of barbaric violence, with armed groups reportedly burning down houses with civilians inside, people being killed in front of family members, sexual assaults of women and girls and kidnapping of boys for forced conscription," the UNHCR said.

"With refugees still arriving in their thousands, the amount of aid we are able to deliver is increasingly falling short."

Another one million or more South Sudanese are sheltering in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Congo and Central African Republic.

The number of people fleeing jumped after deadly fighting again erupted in South Sudan’s capital Juba in July 2016.

A fundraising summit hosted by Uganda in June raised only a fraction of the £1.5 billion that Ugandan officials have said is needed to sufficiently look after the refugees and the communities hosting them.

"This unhappy 1-million milestone must serve as a wake-up call to the international community that much more is needed from them," Sarah Jackson, an Amnesty International official in the region, said in a statement.

"With no resolution to the conflict in South Sudan in sight, refugees will continue to flee to Uganda and the humanitarian crisis will only escalate."

Most of the refugees are women and children fleeing violence, often along ethnic lines, since the world’s newest country erupted into violence in December 2013.

Ugandan refugee officials have repeatedly warned the influx is straining the country’s ability to be generous to the refugees, who are often given small plots of land for building temporary shelters and planting crops when they arrive.

The largest of the settlements hosting refugees from South Sudan, Bidi Bidi, is roughly 90 square miles.

The World Food Programme cut food rations for some refugees amid funding shortages in June.

The UN says at least £523 million is needed to support South Sudanese refugees in Uganda this year, although only a fifth of that amount has been received.

The money is needed to provide basic services, including stocking clinics with medicines and putting up schools.

Aid agencies say classroom sizes in the few available schools often exceed 200 pupils, and other children have dropped out because the nearest schools are located miles away.

Fighting persists in parts of South Sudan despite multiple ceasefire agreements.

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