Sudan

Up to 35,000 children forced to flee their homes by fighting in contested area of Abyei in Sudan, Save the Children says

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Escalating violence in the contested Sudanese area of Abyei has displaced up to 35,000 children since fighting broke out on May 20th according to Save the Children. The children’s agency warns that many have been separated from their families and are at grave risk of being traumatised and abused.

Almost the entire population of the Abyei town has fled amid reports of gunfire, burning and looting. There are concerns that the fighting between north Sudan and south Sudan troops may spread further still.

Displaced children face a number of serious risks, including being caught up in violence and witnessing traumatic events. Save the Children fears that children separated from their parents, who will already be disorientated and afraid, could be targeted for sexual and physical abuse or recruited into the armed conflict. The longer the violence continues the greater the risk for children.

Save the Children is poised to respond to the crisis in Abyei, but the ongoing fighting is preventing aid getting to worst affected areas.

“It is hard to imagine how terrifying this highly volatile situation is for these children” said Amin El Fadil, Save the Children Sweden’s Country Director for Sudan. “Save the Children is desperately worried about those children currently beyond the reach of humanitarian assistance. We urgently need access to Abyei, so we can give the help they need."

The area of Abyei is contested between the north of Sudan and the south – southern Sudan voted to become an independent state in January 2011. It has been the scene of regular clashes between those who want the area to remain part of the north and others who think it should be part of southern Sudan.

The new wave of displaced people comes on top of an existing humanitarian crisis in south Sudan, a country with some of the poorest people in the world. In recent months, hundreds of thousands of southerners have left north Sudan, returning home to their ancestral lands, prior to south Sudan’s official declaration of independence on July 9th 2011.

There are still approximately 1.5 million southerners living in the north and it is likely that many of them will return to south Sudan over the coming months, placing increased strain on the already overstretched capacity of Government and humanitarian agencies to meet their needs.

Save the Children is on the ground responding to children’s needs across northern and southern Sudan and is preparing to scale up our response to the current crisis. As one of the few organisations with a presence in every state in the south, the charity is uniquely placed to deliver food, health supplies and crucial shelter items to displaced children. The charity had to evacuate from Abyei on May 20thas the security situation deteriorated.

Save the Children is calling on all parties involved in the fighting to respect peace agreements and act the interests of children and families in the Abyei area, and urgently needs safe humanitarian access to Abyei to reach as many vulnerable children as possible.