Sudan/South Sudan: “When peace returns to Blue Nile, we will return.”
23 Apr 2013
Since 2011, conflict in Sudan’s Blue Nile State has displaced or severely affected 300,000 people. Many have sought refuge in South Sudan.
After bombs fell in the fields outside their village in Sudan’s Blue Nile State, Mary and her family decided to leave. Mercifully no one was killed in the strike, but more than two years of constant fighting meant that she, like so many others, no longer felt safe.
Five days later, after trekking through open bush-land and scrub, they made it across the border into South Sudan, arriving at the Doro refugee camp.
Conflict broke out between Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement - North, in September 2011, just a few months after South Sudan seceded. Since then, almost 300,000 people have been displaced or severely affected. Nearly 115,000 people have found refuge in one of the four camps established in South Sudan’s Maban region.
UN Agencies and their humanitarian partners have been working in Maban since the first refugees began to arrive in late 2011. They are on the ground providing assistance to people in need, including food, shelter, water, sanitation and education. The Common Humanitarian Fund, managed by OCHA South Sudan, has provided more than $13 million to support these efforts.
Adan Ilmi, the head of UNHCR in Maban, explains that the humanitarian community is now looking to stabilize the situation and to provide more medium to long-term support to refugees.
But still the conflict rages on, and new refugees continue to arrive at an average of 50 to 100 every day. Since the beginning of this year, an estimated 15,000 Sudanese have been registered in South Sudan. Relief agencies are aiming to establish a fifth refugee site in Mabannear the village of Kaya. The goal is to have the site established and relief items pre-positioned by May, before the rainy season cuts off access by road.
Not all of those affected by the conflict have reached South Sudan. To the east of Blue Nile, the refugee camps in Assosa, Ethiopia, have seen a significant surge in refugees since the end of 2011, with some 32,000 people crossing that border.
Within Blue Nile State, international humanitarian organizations have only had limited access to communities affected by the conflict. In late March, UNHCR was able to distribute 600 bundles of non-food relief supplies to 3,000 people in Geissen, near the border with Ethiopia. In mid-April, the World Food Programme started distributing food rations designed to last two months to 95,000 people in five of the state’s six localities.
For its part, since the fighting started OCHA Sudan has provided $17 million from the Common Humanitarian Fund to bolster these efforts and those being carried out by local NGOs.
‘When peace returns, we will return’
Back in Doro camp, Mary explains that the majority of refugees in Maban still have family in Sudan. Some younger people stayed behind to tend the fields, and many of the elderly were too frail to undertake the trek to the border. Movement within Blue Nile is difficult, so Mary was unable to evacuate her whole family. She has not seen her eldest daughter, who was studying in the state capital Ed Damazine, since mid-2011.
However, Mary remains pragmatic about her future in South Sudan, and optimistic that she will return home.
“Life here is different compared to life back home,” she says. “But we will stay as long as we need to. When peace returns to Blue Nile, we will return.”