South Sudan refugees face long exile: UN's Grandi

South Sudan refugees face long exile: UN's Grandi

The UN's refugee chief has said a long period of exile lies ahead for South Sudanese refugees fleeing the civil war.
3 min read
16 August, 2017
Tens of thousands of South Sudanese have been killed and millions displaced [Getty]

The UN's refugee chief said on Tuesday a long period of exile lies ahead for South Sudanese refugees fleeing the war that erupted in their country after it split from the north.

Tens of thousands of South Sudanese have been killed and millions displaced since the world's youngest country fell into a civil war less than three years after it seceded in 2011.

Urging crowds of refugees at al-Nimir camp in the Sudanese state of East Darfur to "be strong and hopeful", Filippo Grandi said it was about time leaders of South Sudan ended a war that continues to rage on.

"I must confess that I think it may be a long-term exile" for the refugees who continue to flee from their country every day, Grandi told AFP as he toured the camp, where about 5,000 South Sudanese have taken refuge.

Given the bloodshed in South Sudan, he said, many refugees would "think twice" before returning to their homes.

Grandi said the refugees had to remain hopeful of returning to their country, but a lot depended on when South Sudan becomes stable.

"That hope depends on the action first and foremost of the leadership of South Sudan and of the opposition," he said.

"They have to start behaving responsibly and thinking of their own people and not only of themselves."

South Sudan's civil war began in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup. Since then the war has spread across the country, sweeping up ethnic groups and local grievances.

Overall the refugee population from South Sudan has reached about two million, of whom more than 430,000 have taken refuge in Sudan, the United Nations says.

Grandi praised Khartoum for opening "human corridors" to deliver aid directly from Sudan to areas of South Sudan, and for hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees.

"Sudan has kept its doors open at a time when so many countries have closed their doors," he said, addressing hundreds of refugees gathered to meet him in the sprawling camp of thatched huts and brick homes.

Grandi said it was time to develop "new models" for aiding refugees, rather than just keeping them in camps.

"For how long can you support these camps?" he said as aid agencies face increasing financial struggles.

It would be better to support the local economy, he said, as that would "benefit the refugees also".

While touring the camp, Grandi visited a newly built school as well as some refugee families in their huts, where women described how they fled the war at home.

"We will now return only when there is peace in our country," one woman, who came to Al Nimir in May, told Grandi.

"Don't lose hope," Grandi told her, as behind him groups of refugees performed traditional dances to mark his visit.

Urging Khartoum to continue supporting the refugees, Grandi said the occupants of camps should also "respect the law" of the land.

Earlier this month a mob of South Sudanese refugees went on a rampage at the al-Waral camp in Sudan's southern White Nile state after reports that a refugee youth had died in police custody.

The mob burned down the camp's administrative buildings and looted warehouses, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said.

Khartoum now plans to split the al-Waral camp, which has more than 50,000 South Sudanese refugees, into three separate units.

"It worries me if the law is broken, and it worries me that this may open up a feeling of hostility to the refugees," said Grandi when asked about the unrest.