February 7 2011

SOS Children's Villages gives refuge to 150 families as gunfights break out in South Sudan

07/02/2011 - The SOS Children's Village Malakal has taken in more than 150 families seeking shelter after 50 people reportedly died in gunfights. Violent clashes broke out over the coming secession of South Sudan from the North after today's official recognition of the referendum results.

Photo: SOS Archives
More than 150 families rely on the protection SOS Children's Villages offers - Photo: SOS Archives

Violent clashes have erupted once more in the South Sudanese town of Malakal between armed militias and army troops over the results of a southern referendum in favor of independence from the North that was officially recognised by Sudan's president Omar Hassan al-Bashir today, 7 February. More than 150 families have sought refuge in the SOS Children's Village as the organisation is widely respected by both warring sides and has provided protection from violence in the past.

Though the children's village has not been harmed, the sound of gunshots could be heard close by as of Friday morning. A shell fired by a tank into a neighbouring building caused slight damage and a stray bullet hit a house where adolescent girls in SOS Children's Villages' care live. In spite of this, the village director has described the security situation as being relatively stable.

Photo: SOS Archives
As the town has been cut off from the outside world and markets have closed, food supplies are a concern - Photo: SOS Archives

While the SOS Children's Village has a functioning generator, the town itself currently has no electricity. The fuel for the generator is being rationed, as the town has been cut off from supply routes, which also raises concern over the water supply, usually provided by government authorities. With the town's markets closed, a delivery of food packages that was already sent to the village by the offices of SOS Children's Villages in Karthoum is feared to have been lost to looters; a second delivery is being prepared to ensure the families currently staying at the SOS Children's Villages are provided with basic necessities.

In a sad coincidence, the children of the SOS Children's Village were in fact preparing festivities to celebrate the birth of their future country. On the day that would later see the violence break out, the director of SOS Children's Villages Sudan reported that the children were "ready and happy to start a new life and a new country with hopes for the best of the people of the south of Sudan. It is a positive experience for the children. It will be great for them to witness the birth of the country and the making of history; great also to participate in the building and hard work for its future". The events of the last few days are a sad reminder of how much work remains to be done.

Photo: SOS Archives
The respect SOS Children's Villages enjoys among all warring factions has protected children and their families in the past - Photo: SOS Archives

SOS Children's Villages has been operating in Malakal since 2002. It offers families a space to socialise in its SOS community centre as well as providing a new home to 103 children in the SOS Children's Village. The respect SOS Children's Villages enjoys among members of all warring groups has offered protection to thousands of children and their families on two occasions in the past, once in 2006 and again 2009. SOS Children's Villages has also provided medical supplies and emergency medical care for children and their families in the areas of conflict.