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Time is up - we must stand by the people of South Sudan

by Winnie Byanyima | Oxfam International
Wednesday, 11 January 2017 10:57 GMT

South Sudanese women and children queue to receive emergency food in Juba, South Sudan July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Adriane Ohanesian

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

South Sudan crisis must not be ignored just simply because it is far from Europe’s shores

As I write, multiple, growing crises are inflicting havoc on millions of innocent lives.

Lives – of people like the rest of us, who have jobs, families, and children – are being forever changed by conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Lake Chad Basin, Iraq, and elsewhere. Inaction has fuelled the largest displacement crisis since records began: over sixty-five million people have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict, violence or persecution.

There is one catastrophic crisis unfolding in East Africa, close to home for me, which the world’s governments for the most part seem to have decided to ignore for now: the spiralling conflict in South Sudan.

For the past three years this country, the world’s youngest, has been ravaged by fighting. Peace treaties have been signed and broken; thousands of lives have been lost, and too little has been done by the international community to protect the lives of the ordinary people.

Now in South Sudan nearly 5 million people are desperately hungry. Half the population is already in need of humanitarian aid and more than one million people have fled into neighbouring countries, mostly in Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Alarmingly the number of South Sudanese who have fled to other countries in East Africa over the last three years is almost on par with the number of refugees registered at the height of arrivals in Europe last year. Equally alarming is the fact that the $759 million UN humanitarian response for this regional crisis is only 28 percent funded.

This is not just South Sudan’s crisis; it’s an international one. The UN is calling for swift action after their Commission for Human Rights warned that the country is “on the brink” of genocide.

This crisis must not be ignored just simply because it is far from Europe’s shores.

The number of people crossing South Sudan’s borders continues to rise, with as many as 4,000 South Sudanese currently fleeing into neighbouring countries daily.

Children make up two thirds of refugees. How many generations of young people have to grow up in refugee camps before we realise that peace is a non-negotiable prerequisite for any economic growth or development of a nation?

Decision-makers must urgently muster the courage to shift course for the people of South Sudan.

The international community – led by the African Union, and governments and institutions in East Africa must put all their efforts into putting an end to the violence and the conflict.

South Sudan’s neighbours have a critical role to play as peace brokers. They are absorbing South Sudanese refugees, and they hold the keys to influencing South Sudan’s leaders. They must also ensure that borders are kept open so that people can flee the fighting and violence; over 1 million people now refugees. It is, too, critical that host countries have the resources to support people forced to flee.

South Sudan’s neighbours, like developing nations around the world which host 86 percent of the world’s refugees, have long known their duty to protect people forced to flee.

My own country, Uganda is hosting over half-a-million South Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers. Refugees are guaranteed rights to work, establish businesses, attend school, freely move and own property; land, too, is given for agricultural use. But as the influx of refugees increases, and the resources are lacking, the generosity of host communities is already overstretched.

The world cannot afford to avert its gaze from the horrors unfolding in South Sudan any longer. Violence is not inevitable. Governments – particularly those in our continent – have the ability to end this suffering. They must act, without further delay.

Winnie Byanyima is Oxfam International executive director