Upper Nile, South Sudan: “Many have lost all hope”
Christian Jepsen (07.09.2012)
Thousands of Sudanese refugees have been forced to flee their homes for the second time. They are now facing extremely challenging conditions in camps in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, where humanitarian actors are working overtime to provide lifesaving assistance.
NRC’s Rapid Response Team has recently assessed the refugee situation in Upper Nile.
One of more than 100,000 Sudanese refugees in Upper Nile state in northern South Sudan is community leader Sila Mousa Kangi. There is no optimism or hope in Silas’ voice as he explains the current situation for refugees originating from Blue Nile state, across the border in Sudan.
“I am 54 years old and I have only seen peace in very short doses. I fear that our children will suffer the same fate,” says Sila Mousa Kangi, sitting in front of his shelter made from straw and covered by a piece of plastic sheeting. “We want sustainable peace so we can live like other people with a house and a livelihood. It is not good for people to keep asking for assistance. Many here have lost all hope.”
A large proportion of the over 40,000 refugees here in Doro camp fled the conflict in Sudan and spent decades displaced to Ethiopian camps before returning to Blue Nile state, after a peace agreement between the north and south of Sudan was signed in 2005. The agreement brought promises of a peaceful future, but in the Blue Nile state the peace was short-lived. In September 2011, heavy fighting erupted between Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Blue Nile, Sudan. Fleeing the advancing forces, thousands of civilians embarked on a long journey on foot, often lasting several weeks with extremely limited access to food or water.
Dying on the road
“When we fled, we were a total of 155 people in our group, but ten elderly people died on the road of starvation”, says 47 year old Issa Simat, a local leader, from the Baow area in Blue Nile. The exhausted group arrived in Yusuf Batil camp on 23 May this year after a 15-day journey on foot. Several of his 13 children were extremely weak when they reached Upper Nile and have suffered with malaria and diarrhoea since then. Fortunately all of them are now in a better condition thanks to the health facilities in the camp, Issa Simat confirms. He has no expectation of being able to return to Sudan in the foreseeable future due to the lack of peace and stability.
Humanitarian agencies have been overwhelmed by the massive influx of refugees – not all needs have been met in time. In July and August Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) brought attention to alarmingly high levels of malnutrition related deaths amongst children. The humanitarian agencies are, however, involved in a relentless and constant race against time to provide lifesaving assistance in this remote corner of the world’s newest country. Step by step, the refugees are provided with tents; food is distributed; malnourished children are fed with high-protein supplements; new wells provide safe water; latrines are being dug and clinics provide much needed medicine and treatment. All of this is taking place in one of the harshest environments imaginable.
A challenging operation
The environment in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state has greeted its newcomers with extreme challenges. Relentless rains sweep the whole country from May to November and the subsequent flooding completely cuts off remote areas from any road access during that time. At the same time, lack of barges, helicopters and cargo-planes has turned the refugee response in Upper Nile into one of the most logistically complicated humanitarian operations in the world. And the struggling may be far from over.
“We fear that intensified fighting in Blue Nile after the rainy season may lead to a major new influx of refugees later this year”, says Shaun Scales, NRC’s Senior Emergency Response Coordinator. “Such a development would severely challenge the existing capacities of the camps and of the humanitarian actors. Therefore agencies and donors need to act now to be able to exploit the road access in the dry season from October to May and prepare for the next rainy season in 2013 with substantial stockpiling of food and materials”.
NRC is currently not operating in Upper Nile state and is now reviewing the findings of the assessment to decide if and how the organization may respond to the refugee crisis. NRC is responding to other on-going crises elsewhere in South Sudan and supports returnees, internally displaced people and displacement-affected host communities with programming in education, food security and livelihoods; information, counselling and legal assistance, emergency shelter and school construction, and water, sanitation and hygiene. NRC also responds to new crises and displacement in current areas of operation and recently assisted people displaced by border clashes in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state.