South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, signed the “Compromise Peace Agreement” to end the civil war between government forces and armed rebel factions in August of 2015. This shaky peace agreement was short-lived, as fighting broke out again in July 2016. The UN estimates that 3 million South Sudanese have been displaced by this violence. The continued conflict in conjunction with famine and food shortages has made South Sudan the source of the ‘fastest-growing refugee crisis’ according to the UNHCR. The UNHCR estimates that as of the 15th March, over 1.5 million South Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic with almost half of the refugees fleeing to Uganda. There have been 2500 South Sudanese refugee arrivals per day in Uganda, with over 5,000 arriving on the 9th of March. Uganda is one of six nations (the others being Ethiopia, Djibouti, Honduras the United Republic of Tanzania, and Somalia) that have agreed to be involved in piloting the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) that was developed at the Summit for Refugees and Migrants in New York last September. Uganda already has one of the most progressive refugee policies in the world under their Self-Reliance Strategy (SRS) which was developed by the Ugandan government in collaboration with the UNHCR. Under this strategy, refugees are provided agricultural land and the opportunity to become productive members of society. However, the majority of South Sudanese refugees are settled within Northern Uganda, which is lacking resources and is underdeveloped. This influx of refugees is pushing Uganda’s ability to accept and care for refugees to a critical point, as transit facilities in northern Uganda set up to deal with the newly arriving refugees from South Sudan are becoming overwhelmed, according to the UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch at a press briefing in Geneva on 17th March.
The response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in South Sudan needs to be addressed. Priti Patel, Britain’s secretary for international development, has accused President Salva Kiir of blocking access to aid and using access to food as a weapon of war, according to Reuters. Patel has criticized other African leaders for not putting more pressure on South Sudanese to bring an end to the violence and being too reliant on the international community to resolve their issues. David Shearer, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan at the Meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council on South Sudan 17th March 2017, called on the African Union to bring an end to the impunity of the leaders in South Sudan.
So, what is to be done about the South Sudanese refugee crisis? The most effective path to resolving the crisis is to end the conflict that is causing South Sudanese to flee their country. How should we begin trying to bring peace and stability to South Sudan? The current situation of the peace process is shaky at best. An important first step towards peace and stability would be to reopen the dialogue on a peace deal. President Salva Kiir had reservations about the 2015 Compromise Peace Agreement that was mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and was constrained by a deadline without having certain concerns addressed. President Kiir had 16 concerns regarding the agreement which were not addressed or resolved before signing (All 16 ‘reservations’ can be found here: https://carleton.ca/africanstudies/wp-content/uploads/GRSS-reservations.pdf). The agreement also did not include all rebel factions involved in the violence occurring in South Sudan. Inclusivity of all factions contributing to the conflict is crucial to ensuring long-term peace and stability. Developing long-term peace and stability requires time and patience, peace agreements should not be rushed. Putting deadlines and compelling parties to sign will only ensure that agreements will have signatures but not that they will be implemented. Reopening dialogue between the government and rebel factions and allowing them time to voice and address their concerns is crucial to establishing peace.
Before peace and stability are achieved, the refugee crisis needs to be urgently addressed. The countries bearing most of the burden of the South Sudanese refugees are neighbouring countries, which are developing nations, many of which have their own issues with conflict and food shortages, are ill-equipped and underfunded to deal with this influx of people fleeing the violence. Funding is a major concern. The UNHCR has requested 781.8 million USD for dealing with the South Sudan situation but only 65.7 million USD has been received, which is a mere 8% of the funding required. UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch has warned that the CRRF is at great risk of failing unless support is provided.
Other wealthier nations need to do their part to alleviate the pressure placed on these nations by providing financial and humanitarian assistance. The current political climate in Western countries is very averse to accepting, settling or supporting refugees. This attitude needs to be changed in order to help the South Sudanese refugee crisis. An interesting proposal to deal with this issue of third world countries carrying the majority of the responsibility of providing assistance to refugees was proposed by Peter Shuck in 1997 in his paper ‘Refugee Burden-Sharing: A Modest Proposal’. He proposes that ‘quota system’ for providing assistance to refugees should be introduced and given to participating countries. In his model, these ‘quotas’ could be traded by nations to relieve their responsibilities of providing humanitarian assistance and/or resettling refugees (the paper can be accessed here: http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2691&context=fss_papers). This type of system would ensure that the humanitarian needs of South Sudanese refugees would be met and the majority of the responsibility wouldn’t rest on the shoulders of neighbouring countries.
Without a strong commitment to providing humanitarian assistance and encouraging peace building within and outside of South Sudan, mitigating the refugee crisis will be impossible. Internal and external actors must work together to embark on the creation of a process that will ensure long-term peace and stability. In the meantime, support and assistance need to be urgently provided to South Sudanese refugees.