In the past weeks, Central Equatoria, on the southern border of South Sudan, has seen mass amounts of the local population flee towards neighboring Uganda. From February 3- 9 alone, the UN reports Uganda has received 25,400 South Sudanese refugees. This brings the total number of South Sudanese refugees and asylum-seekers in the country to 736,953.
As conflict in the region continues into its 4th year, Aljazeera report “an escalation in violence between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, loyal to the government of President Salva Kiir, and the SPLA-in-Opposition forces, loyal to the former First Vice President Riek Machar” has led to thousands of civilians fleeing the area. The UN reports that there is limited access to food and basic services, and concludes that the lack of security has created an environment of “lawlessness'”
The most recent wave of refugees into Uganda’s northern region report that armed soldiers sporting the uniform of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army are carrying out systematic and large scale attacks against civilians fleeing the region. Many civilians have been forced to make the trek through the bush or in the dark, and have had to use a number of informal border crossing points in Moyo district.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that number of refugees who have fled South Sudan has surpassed 1.5 million, in addition to more than 2.1 million internally displaced people. As reported by Al Jazeera, a spokesperson for UNCHR said that “with this large-scale displacement, South Sudan is now Africa’s largest refugee crisis and the world’s third after Syria and Afghanistan – with less attention and chronic levels of underfunding.”
Since last November, UN officials have been warning that ethnic cleansing is under way in the Central Equatoria region and in Yei River State, and have raised serious concerns the conditions are being created for a genocide in South Sudan.
Despite the graveness of the situation, the conflict in South Sudan remains on the fringes of public and political interest. One reason for this may be that the problem is not yet “on our doorstep.” The influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa into Europe and the constant coverage of Syrian Civil War has brought the plight of those refugees to the forefront of the discourse, and the apparent global threat of ISIS has placed urgency on the conflict. With such a grim start to 2017, many in South Sudan lack hope that the situation in the country will improve. Just like the Syrian Civil War, the conflict in South Sudan requires our urgent attention.