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Refugee Camp in South Sudan Bombed, Sparking Calls for International Response

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Refugee Camp in South Sudan Bombed, Sparking Calls for International Response

Posted by Laura Heaton on January 26, 2012

Refugee Camp in South Sudan Bombed, Sparking Calls for International Response

With attention focused on the tense Sudan-South Sudan talks in Addis Ababa this week, media coverage only paused for a moment to recognize yet another aerial bombardment of a refugee site in South Sudan. Not that the Sudanese government—who wasn’t specifically named as the culprit but is the only force with air capacity in the area—needs the media to be diverted to stage attacks; Khartoum has targeted settlements of refugees fleeing violence in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile for several months, including during a visit by journalists to the teeming Yida refugee camp.

At least one Sudanese refugee boy was injured and 14 were reported missing when the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, first revealed details about the Monday morning bombing in the town of Elfoj. Today, UNHCR reported that all those missing have now been accounted for.

Planes dropped several bombs during two rounds of attacks that began shortly after 10 in the morning. The bombings targeted a refugee transit site less than six miles from South Sudan’s border with Sudan. UNHCR described the scene:

At the time of the incident, about 5,000 refugees were at the site from where movement to new settlements take place on a daily basis. UNHCR and IOM teams with 14 trucks were supervising relocation operations when the first round of bombings took place. Refugees jumped out of the trucks and scattered. Agency staff also had to seek safety.

Efforts to help the civilians caught up in the Khartoum government’s heavy-handed counter-insurgency operations against the rebel SPLA-North in Blue Nile and South Kordofan—as in Darfur—have been stymied by a lack of consensus in the Security Council about whether or how to help. But attacking as Khartoum did, in the midst of already strained talks between Sudan and South Sudan over oil, shows a boldness on the part of Omar al-Bashir’s government that seems to dare the international community not to act.  

Reacting to news of the latest bombing in Elfoj, Enough Co-founder John Prendergast said:

The U.N. Security Council has been too divided to act regarding the Khartoum regime's bombing of internal Sudanese civilian targets in Blue Nile, Darfur, and Southern Kordofan. But when the bombings cross international borders, the Security Council has a special responsibility to act to act against threats to international peace and security. Khartoum's bombing of refugee camps in South Sudan and its confiscation of oil originating in South Sudan requires the council to put away its divisions and act to prevent an escalation between the two neighboring countries.

Current estimates put the total number of refugees in South Sudan who have fled Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile at 78,000 since August. Around 35,000 more fled over Sudan’s eastern border into Ethiopia.

Speaking from Yida refugee camp in South Sudan’s Unity state, Halima Kega, a 35-year-old woman from Nuba, called passionately and repeatedly for accountability for violence perpetrated against civilians—violence that has followed them over the border to Yida. Her video message was recorded by citizen journalist Ryan Boyette, who noted in an email that as Kega approached him while he was conducting interviews, he reached out his hand to greet her. “I did not come here to greet you,” Kega told Boyette. “I have something to say.’” Here is her message:

A group of 87 international organizations and members and friends of the Sudanese diaspora launched a petition on recently that is rapidly approaching its 1,000-signature goal. The letter calls on delegations to the U.N. Security Council to take immediate steps to hold the Sudanese government accountable for its ongoing attacks on civilians and deter further atrocities caused by direct attacks and through the blockage of aid groups. Read the letter and add your signature.

Photo: Asma, a refugee from Blue Nile, in a camp in western Ethiopia with her children (Enough / Amanda Hsiao)