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Stranded in Syria, South Sudanese plead for help

Smoke rises from a mosque and another building during heavy fighting in the Jobar area of Damascus Feb. 6, 2013. (Reuters)
Around 50 South Sudanese families are trapped amid heavy fighting in the Syrian capital, Damascus, with neither the government in Juba nor the U.N. refugee office stepping in to help them, one of the stranded South Sudanese said Friday.

"Not even one group has reached out to us. The situation is getting worse," Emmanuel Sebastian said in a phone interview.

"Our country doesn't even know there are South Sudanese people in Syria. Many of us could die just like that and no one would even talk about it," Sebastian said.

Last week, the stranded South Sudanese went to the United Nations offices in Damascus to "tell them what's going on with us," Sebastian said.

"Many of us have no places to live so the U.N. made a place -- like a stadium -- and they brought security to guard us and watch over us. The security guards hit us with guns, things like that."

An regional official with the International Office For Migration (IOM), who spoke on condition of anonymity, told South Sudan in Focus that the IOM has to follow rules set by the Syrian government and has no mandate to relocate the South Sudanese to another country.

Sebastian said the group of South Sudanese wants to be taken "outside of the dangerous zone," a term he used to refer to all of Syria.

"We're asking the U.N. office just to take us to a safe place," said Sebastian.

The United Nations said last month that more than 60,000 people are believed to have died in Syria since a pro-democracy uprising began there in March 2011.

In June last year, a U.N. official said the Middle Eastern country was in the midst of civil war.

And last month, the U.N. humanitarian office said that some four million people are in need of urgent assistance and more than two million are displaced inside Syria, with the numbers likely to go up if the violence continues.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the  South Sudan In Focus radio program.
    Before joining VOA, John worked in Nairobi, Kenya where he established the first independent radio station (Sudan Radio Service) for the people of Sudan. He has covered several civil wars both in Sudan and South Sudan and has been engaged in the production of civic education materials for creating awareness about post conflict issues facing Sudanese and South Sudanese. John has interviewed South Sudan President Salva Kiir, former Vice President Riek Machar, Vice President Wani Igga, leader of Sudan’s Umma Party Sadiq Al Mahdi in addition to other senior United Nations and U.S government officials in South Sudan and Washington. His travels have taken him across to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria, DRC Congo and parts East Africa where he reported on the South Sudanese diaspora and the challenges facing them.
    A South Sudanese national, John enjoys listening to music from all over the world, reads academic books, watches documentaries and listens to various radio stations on the internet.  You can follow John on Twitter at @Abusukon