South Sudan struggling in face of growing refugee crisis

Six months since South Sudan’s independence, the world’s newest nation is struggling to cope with a major refugee crisis and massive internal displacement, international agency Oxfam said today.

Tens of thousands of people have fled violence in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan across the border in Sudan, and an estimated 60,000 people have also reportedly been affected by last week’s fighting in the South Sudan state of Jonglei.

Over 55,000 refugees have arrived in Upper Nile state in South Sudan in recent months, fleeing conflict in Sudan’s Blue Nile region. More people continue to arrive and are sheltering in newly established refugee camps where food and other essential services are in short supply. Oxfam is boosting its water and sanitation work for 25,000 of the new arrivals.

The worsening conflict along the border between Sudan and South Sudan has led to growing fears of a major food crisis, as insecurity has restricted local agriculture and limited aid and market supplies. Parts of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile are expected to reach emergency levels in early 2012, with early warning systems predicting that food insecurity will reach Phase 4 of 5 – one step below famine levels. Such a crisis is likely to force more refugees into South Sudan, Oxfam said. Around 20,000 people have already fled Southern Kordofan, and thousands more are displaced within the region. Due to conflict and insecurity, many of the rural areas on both sides of the new border remain inaccessible to humanitarian organisations.

“It is six months since South Sudan’s independence and there is much we should be celebrating. But the growing crisis along the border threatens to derail any progress. South Sudan is one of the poorest and least developed nations in the world, and the influx of refugees is placing enormous strain on already scarce resources,” said Fran Equiza, Oxfam’s Regional Director.

Oxfam called on all parties to the conflict to immediately cease hostilities and ensure humanitarian aid can reach all people in need.

Prime Minister congratulates South Sudan

Prime Minister David Cameron congratulated President Salva Kiir and the people of South Sudan on this “remarkable achievement”.

Speaking after South Sudan formally seceded on 9 July, the Prime Minister said:

“Today the Republic of South Sudan becomes independent, and the world’s newest country. This is an historic day, for South Sudan and the whole of Africa. The UK is proud to have been a witness to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and to be among the first to recognise South Sudanese independence. We welcome South Sudan into the community of nations and look forward to building ever stronger links between the UK and South Sudan in the months and years ahead.

“I have asked the Foreign Secretary to convey my congratulations to President Salva Kiir and the people of South Sudan on this remarkable achievement. Reaching this moment has required leadership and statesmanship from all sides. The actions of the government in Khartoum in recognising South Sudan’s independence have been significant, and I hope that today marks the beginning of a new and peaceful chapter in relations between North and South.”