February 27 2012

South Sudan preparing for influx of refugees

27/02/2012 - South Sudan is facing a looming humanitarian crisis as its northern neighbour, Sudan, plans to return refugees across the border. SOS Children's Villages is currently preparing an emergency programme to accommodate and temporarily care for some of the 2,000 unaccompanied children expected to arrive in South Sudan in the coming weeks.

The government of Sudan has given South Sudan until early April to find ways to resettle Southern Sudanese families currently living in Sudan. Many of them are destitute and living on the streets. Among those being repatriated will be unaccompanied children. The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs knows of at least 2,000 children without parental care whose circumstances present a major challenge to the newly established local authorities.

Photo: Conor Ashleigh
After decades of war came ethnic conflict, now South Sudan faces a humanitarian crisis - Photo: Conor Ashleigh

Ultimatum for repatriation

The ministry has made an urgent appeal to SOS Children's Villages and other organisations to assist in preparing for the children’s arrival. South Sudanese authorities are on high alert and very concerned as they do not have the capacity, the funds or the know-how to deal with the issue. Prior to the partitioning of Sudan, children who fled northwards to Khartoum and other regions were regarded as internally displaced persons (IDPs). Now that South Sudan is an independent country, such people have become refugees and the government of Sudan has indicated that it is no longer willing to assume responsibility for them and has issued an ultimatum for their repatriation: 1 April 2012, which has been since extended to 8 April.

Malakal and Jubal are the "points of entry" through which people will pass before seeking a place to live in South Sudan. Many of the unaccompanied children will hopefully be returned to their relatives. To avert a humanitarian crisis immediate emergency aid must be provided and a long-term solution must be found to ensure the fledgling country avoids exacerbating the multitude of problems it must currently deal with. Ever worsening ethnic hostilities combined with very poor infrastructure and a lack of available resources adds to the difficulties already faced by the world’s newest nation.

SOS Children's Villages to set up rescue centres

Having assessed the situation on the ground, SOS Children's Villages is establishing rescue centres in Juba and Malakal, to accommodate and care for a total of 400 children. Unaccompanied children or those up to the age of 12 and separated from their parents are the main target group. SOS Children's Villages will also collaborate with other agencies and government authorities to provide support to help the reintegration of other children above that age.

Photo: Connor Ashleigh
A race against time in Malakal where one of the rescue centres will be located - Photo: Conor Ashleigh
In addition child-friendly spaces will also be established in both locations to supply psychosocial, recreational and learning support for the children until such time as they can be reunited with their families. The psychosocial support will also be extended to other children in cooperation with other NGOs and the authorities in the two locations.

Sudan must adhere to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

SOS Children's Villages is deeply concerned about the possible consequences that forced resettlement may have on these vulnerable children and urges the government of Sudan to act in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and to fulfil its obligation to protect and respect all children regardless of their origin.