JUBA, South Sudan — Humanitarian aid groups working in South Sudan report that, in the last three weeks, over 35,000 refugees from the Sudanese state of Blue Nile have entered transit centers and over-stretched refugee camps in Upper Nile state. The first week of June alone saw an average of 4,000 people a day streaming across the North-South border into Upper Nile. This influx brings the total number of refugees in the South Sudanese state of Upper Nile to 105,000, a staggering number that exceeds the capacity of the state’s two existing refugee camps, Jammam and Doro.
With the height of the rainy season fast approaching, and with it, the specter of impassable roads and stressed supply lines, international humanitarian aid agencies are working to establish a third camp at Batil, a site approximately half way between Jammam and Dorro. It is to this third camp to which the newest arrivals will be directed.
The underlying causes of this spike in refugees are not entirely clear. The U.N. reports that recent clashes between government forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, have driven many to cross the border. ”Crisis” levels of food insecurity in rebel-held areas in Blue Nile, as described in the latest FEWS-NET report, and the approaching rains, which will make some rivers in the state impassable, particularly for those who are elderly or otherwise weak, may also be contributing factors to the influx of refugees. The recent arrivals could, as well, be those civilians who were unable or too weak to flee to South Sudan or Ethiopia when fighting erupted in Blue Nile last September, but who have now been able to make the journey ahead of the rainy season.
Regardless of what’s prompting the rise, the influx of refugees places an additional strain on humanitarian aid efforts in Upper Nile. Of particular concern is accessibility to sources for safe drinking water, in addition to transport concerns ahead of the rains. Further, insecurity along the North-South border coupled with the border’s closure to trade has caused increased food prices within the border states. This, in turn, means that South Sudanese populations along the border—numbering over 917,000—many of whom are already moderately food insecure, could become severely food insecure in the coming months. The fear in Juba is that these border populations may move in increasingly large numbers further south, putting additional strain on international and domestic aid efforts. With South Sudan’s economy deteriorating, owing in large part to the government’s decision to shut off oil production earlier this year, a large internally displaced population could prove to be yet another destabilizing force.
The international community must remain closely seized with the growing humanitarian crisis in Blue Nile, as well as in neighboring South Kordofan, where Sudanese government forces are also engaged in conflict with the SPLM-N and from where thousands of refugees have fled to Unity state, South Sudan. The growing numbers of Sudanese refugees in South Sudan, coupled with insecurity along the North-South border, are, as well, placing a great strain on the people and resources of the South.
In short, Khartoum’s campaign of terror against the people of Blue Nile and South Kordofan and steadfast refusal to permit international humanitarian aid into the two states has not only cost untold lives and created a humanitarian crisis within Sudan, but, as well, poses an increasing risk to the territorial and economic security of South Sudan. Khartoum’s continued refusal to permit aid to flow into Blue Nile and South Kordofan and to enter into negotiations with the SPLM-N is a patent violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2046. In the face of Sudan’s violations of the resolution, the international community should act immediately by imposing sanctions against Sudan under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter and per Resolution 2046. A concerted diplomatic effort must also be initiated to pressure Sudan to negotiate a ceasefire and political arrangements with the SPLM-N, and its larger coalition, the Sudan Revolutionary Front, or SRF. Such negotiations are critical in terms of stemming further human suffering within Sudan and are also necessary to the further progression of Sudan-South Sudan talks.
Photo: A woman and children fetch water in Jammam refugee camp (IRIN)