GENEVA – As South Sudan marks its 10th year of independence, the U.N. refugee agency is calling on countries to continue support for the world’s youngest nation, which, it says, shows promising signs of creating a better future for its beleaguered population.
The past 10 years in South Sudan have been marked by brutal conflict, hundreds of thousands of deaths, and the largest displacement crisis in Africa.
The U.N. refugee agency says 1.6 million people are internally displaced within South Sudan and another 2.2 million are refugees in neighboring countries.
The UNHCR representative in South Sudan, Arafat Jamal, says more than two-thirds of the country’s 12 million people need humanitarian assistance.
Speaking on a video link from the capital, Juba, he says the country is suffering from one of the worst food and nutrition crises in the world, noting 7.2 million people do not have enough to eat.
On top of the many humanitarian problems, he says the country is plagued by government corruption and a multitude of natural disasters. Despite those difficulties, he says signs of hope are emerging that conditions will improve.
“The reason I say this is that there is a peace process. Peace has held largely since 2018. And there is a framework for this peace,” Jamal said. “All the different sides in this country recognize that for there to be peace, there needs to be peace for all citizens. And that includes refugees and internally displaced people.”
A further sign of hope, he says, is that many refugees are returning home on their own. Since 2017, he says nearly 400,000 refugees have gone back to South Sudan with no encouragement or assistance from the international community.
Jamal says South Sudan has been independent for just 10 years, noting that is not a very long time for a country to get its act together.
“I think, as donors, as international community, we cannot just be impatient and say the country has not got it together. Countries throughout the world have taken longer to get their act together,” he said. “So, I think if we are able to bring peace to the country…If we have a bit more patience and a bit more ability to be in solidarity, hold the hands, work together with the government, not be so antagonistic, I think we could come to something better.”
The UNHCR says it needs $224 million this year to sustain current aid efforts and respond to future humanitarian and development needs. It says it has received only 38 percent of the funding—far from enough to support South Sudan’s complex requirements.
Writren by Lisa Schlein