23 October 2012

South Sudan: UK Minister - South Sudan Refugee Crisis Likely to Worsen

London — During a visit to a South Sudanese refugee camp, the UK's Minister for International Development said she was "shocked" by its living conditions.

Minister Lynne Featherstone said on 23 October that during her visit to the UN's Jusuf Batil camp in Upper Nile state she was able to see much-needed services being provided for the refugees, many of whom are fleeing conflict in neighbouring Sudan.

Yusuf Batil was hastily constructed on the Maban county floodplain. According to Médecins sans Frontières in August three or four children under the age of five die there everyday, double the requirement for it to do classified as an emergency; one or two deaths in 10,000 children.

Featherstone's trip will also involve discussions with the UN and aid agencies on the UK's aid relationship with South Sudan and ways to better coordinate the work of the different agencies and to plan as, according to Featherstone, "fighting in the coming days and months to come will increase the refugee crisis."

The UK is the third largest humanitarian donor in South Sudan.

Figures published by the Government of South Sudan in 2011 showed that in 2010 the UK donated US$97 million to South Sudan, putting in third place after the European Union and top donor, the US.

Comparatively, the UN plans to spend US$1,130 million on development and humanitarian assistance and US$735 million on peacekeeping in 2012 and 2013.

After visiting the camp Featherstone said, "the suffering I have seen only reinforces the urgent need for all parties to commit to finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict through face-to-face negotiation".

Unity and Upper Nile states of South Sudan are currently giving refuge to 170,000 people fleeing conflict across the border in Sudan.

Khartoum's forces are currently engaged in a conflict with a rebel coalition fighting in the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The majority of the Sudan Revolutionary Front rebels operating in the region are from the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), a break away faction of the ex-rebels which now sit in power in Juba.

Khartoum has accused Juba of offering the SPLA-N military support, a claim which Juba denies and counters with accusations that Khartoum supports rebels operating in South Sudan.

Humanitarian access to Blue Nile and South Kordofan is tightly controlled by Khartoum. The UK is therefore assisting the people of these states through the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Sudan Common Humanitarian Fund and lobbying for better access to the area.

Despite the magnitude of the refugee crisis, which is likely to compounded by flooding, which brings with it an upsurge in instances of water-borne diseases, the current political rhetoric adopted by Khartoum's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the SPLM-N is far from conciliatory.

South Sudan president, Salva Kiir, has on numerous occasions, including most recently on 10 October, offered to mediate between the Khartoum's ruling National Congress Party and the SPLM-N rebels. The offer was again flatly refused.

After Juba and Khartoum signed a series of agreements in September the SPLM-N's Yassir Arman called for his groups involvement in the organisation of an agreed-upon buffer zone between the two Sudans, in light, he claimed, of their control of 40 percent of the border.

Khartoum's permanent representative to the UN, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, responded by calling for the UN Security Council to issues a statement demanding the SPLM-N refrains from "any hostile acts that may hinder implementation of the agreements reached with South Sudan".

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