News / Africa

UN Urges Aid to Avert South Sudan Disaster

A Sudanese family from the war-torn Blue Nile state carry their belongings on their heads as they arrive at South Sudan's Doro refugee camp December 12, 2011.
A Sudanese family from the war-torn Blue Nile state carry their belongings on their heads as they arrive at South Sudan's Doro refugee camp December 12, 2011.
Lisa Schlein

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, is calling for a massive humanitarian effort in South Sudan, where conflict has displaced tens of thousands of people. The high commissioner is set to wrap up a mission Tuesday to assess the refugee and displacement situation in South Sudan.

Newly-independent South Sudan faces multiple displacement crises. These include two refugee influxes due to fighting across the border in Sudan, and a number of internal conflicts between the government and rebel groups in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states.

The conflicts have resulted in tens of thousands of people fleeing Sudan to take refuge in the south and tens of thousands of South Sudanese becoming displaced within their own country. Guterres visited South Sudan this week to evaluate the situation.

Plea for help

A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, Andrej Mahecic, is warning it will not be possible to respond to these multiple crises without international help. And this, he said, could plunge South Sudan into a humanitarian disaster of enormous proportions.

"The vast majority of some 28,000 refugees in Doro camp, where he [High Commissioner Guterres] met the Sudanese refugees, are exhausted, hungry and vulnerable, women and children who walked several days to seek safety across the border. Most of their men have stayed behind to watch over their property," said Mahecic. "Recent fighting in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states has forced more than 80,000 Sudanese refugees to flee across the border into Unity and Upper Nile States in South Sudan. Another 33,000 refugees sought shelter in Ethiopia.”  

The conflicts in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile began some months ago. In both states, Sudan's armed forces are fighting rebels who were aligned with the south during the long Sudanese civil war.

Although the south gained its independence from the north on July 9, the two sides still have to negotiate how they will share oil revenues and finalize the demarcation of boundaries.

Refugees on border

Since July, Sudan has launched periodic cross-border militia raids and bombed refugee camps in South Sudan. A bombing raid by Sudan’s air force in November on the town of Yida in South Sudan caused an international outcry.

Refugee spokesman Mahecic said thousands of refugees are still gathered close to the border with Sudan. He said Guterres is urging them to move to a UNHCR settlement further away from the border where they will be safer. He added, however, that many are reluctant to do so.

"A lot of refugees try to stay as close as possible to their homes. Many people want to go back as soon as possible, as soon as they have the first word that perhaps there is peace, that there is a cease fire, that there is some chance of getting back home," said Mahecic. "At the moment the situation is difficult. It is volatile, and that is why we are urging people to move away from that area and to find shelter in the UNHCR settlements 50 kilometers away.”  

The U.N. refugee agency also is participating in a large international aid operation in Jonglei state, where recent inter-ethnic fighting has displaced some 50,000 people. The UNHCR also is supporting government efforts to reintegrate some 660,000 returnees, more than half of whom returned from northern Sudan before the South got its independence.

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