The number of South Sudanese child refugees travelling alone to seek sanctuary in neighbouring Uganda is approaching the 'staggering' and 'alarming' level of 10,000, a leading Christian charity has warned.
World Vision estimates that since July 2016, some 9,000 unaccompanied minors and separated children from war-torn South Sudan have crossed into Uganda.
The international humanitarian organisation says that unless conflict ceases in South Sudan, by mid-2017 Uganda could soon become home to some 10,000 recently separated and unaccompanied refugee children.
In the past year, Uganda has become host to the largest refugee settlement in the world, with more than 2,000 refugees from South Sudan have been arriving into Uganda every day. Some 86 per cent of these are women and children, according to the international refugee body UNHCR.
World Vision is working on the ground to register hundreds of unaccompanied South Sudanese minors arriving daily at the world's largest refugee settlement: Uganda's Bidi Bidi refugee camp, with a population of 270,000 people.
Gilbert Kamanga, World Vision Uganda'scountry director, said: 'Every day World Vision is registering more than 100 separated and unaccompanied minors. The majority of these children saw their parents being killed while others lost touch with their families once fighting broke out. Some of them walk for more than a week to get to Uganda, with nothing to eat.'
He added: 'This is one of the worst forms of violence against children. It must stop. Peace needs to prevail in South Sudan.'
World Vision is currently overseeing the case management and identification of separated refugee children and unaccompanied minors at Bidi Bidi and Imvepi refugee settlements in northern Uganda.
The children's charity has been able to institute interim foster care support for more than 2,500 unaccompanied minors and help at least 1,000 separated children re-unite with their relatives.
'Children make up the highest percentage of new arrivals and they bear the brunt of the conflict in South Sudan,' said Kamanga.
'All in all, World Vision figures show that 6,057 unaccompanied minors and separated children have been registered in Bidi Bidi settlement, while 3,098 have been registered at Imvepi refugee settlement.
'This on-going influx has caused huge gaps in the areas of child protection, psychosocial support, education, peaceful coexistence and youth development programming.'