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South Sudan refugee crisis: "All of these deaths are preventable"

Shaba with Jane-Ann McKenna of Medecins Sans Frontières Ireland in Jamam refugee camp. Shaba's two-year old daughter died after the journey to the camp. McKenna said that eight children are dying there each day due to a shortage of resources.Aid agencies and the South Sudanese government urgently need to work together to resolve the refugee crisis in border regions according to a leading medical charity.

One year on from the momentous declaration of independence by South Sudan and 18 months after the secession referendum, head of Office at Medecins Sans Frontières Ireland, Jane-Ann McKenna said the situation at Jamam Camp is critical with eight children dying every day.

She said in the last month over 35,000 refugees have fled violence in Sudan for the camp in South Sudan, bringing the total number of refuges in the area to an estimated 170,000.

“Many had been walking for weeks, or months on end, and were suffering from dehydration. In many cases already ill, they arrived in a place that is uniquely unsuited to accommodate a hundred thousand refugees,” she said via e-mail from Jamam.

It had been hoped independence for the smaller nation from north Sudan would mean peace following decades of civil war. But sporadic conflict on the Sudanese side of the border between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) is spreading.

In recent months the South Sudan government has shut down oil production causing economic distress on the both sides of the border with MSF saying rising food prices are adding to the tension.

As heavy rains continue, this camp and others are at risk of flooding as the dry plains cannot support this huge influx of people. Describing the area as a “swampy floodplain”, McKenna said:

“This is completely unacceptable. All of these deaths are preventable, and more resources need to be deployed to ensure that no more deaths happen.”

REFUGEES AT JAMAM CAMP

Mother of five Shaba, originally from a village near the town of Kukur in Sudan, has been living at the camp since December. Shaba said she and her family fled their village following fighting, initially walking to Kukur and then for another twelve days to the camp.

“There were bombings in Kukur, sometimes at night, sometimes early in the morning, sometimes during the day. No one would light a torch or a fire because we were afraid of being bombed. Bombs hit near our shelter. We left Kukur because we heard there was a safe place here,” she told McKenna this week.

Her two-year old daughter died after the journey. Now the family would like to return home but it is too dangerous she said.

Another man, 55-year-old Sheikh Osman, said that two of his seven children had disappeared when the family fled bombings in September.

“When the planes dropped bombs, they burnt everything, including the houses. The planes would come at night to drop the bombs, but sometimes they would come during the day. We would run and hide in the grass and bushes,” he said.

They made a four-month journey from their village across the border. He said: “In Kwaimol, life was comfortable. When we ran, we left everything, the cattle, hens and sorghum.”

AlertNet reported this week there is “a chronic shortage of clean water” for drinking in spite of drilling efforts.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE

A spokeswoman for Irish Aid said that Ireland has given over 30 million in funding for humanitarian projects in Sudan and what is now South Sudan since 2008. This includes five million this year to partner organisation in the United Nations, and almost €1.5 million in funding for Trócaire, Goal and World Vision

A new round of talks between Sudan and South Sudan began this week under the African Union. Meanwhile in response to the continued violence, the United Nations Security Council has announced a one-year extension to the Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

Commentators on the region also draw attention to the long-term effects of the bombing in destroying agriculture and livelihoods in the border areas with an increasing risk of famine.

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