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The Elders visit Sudanese refugees on peace errand

News Stories, 9 July 2012

© UNHCR/P. Rulashe
Archbishop Desmond Tutu meets a Sudanese refugee in Yusuf Batil.

JUBA, South Sudan, July 9 (UNHCR) Nobel Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, visited Sudanese refugees this weekend in South Sudan's Upper Nile state along with Mary Robinson, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The three visited Yusuf Batil Camp on Sunday as members of The Elders, an independent grouping of 12 respected public figures dedicated to promoting peace and human rights and to finding solutions for other global problems. The organization was set up in 2007 by entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, musician Peter Gabriel and former South African President Nelson Mandela.

The day before South Sudan's one-year independence anniversary, the refugees told the visitors about their flight from villages in Sudan's Blue Nile state to escape fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North and the challenges and difficulties they now face.

"Even with the care they are receiving through UNHCR and other humanitarian actors, it is unacceptable that people who had their own lives, rearing livestock and living with dignity, can be made to live in this fashion," a moved Archbishop Tutu said at the camp, which houses 31,000 refugees.

Tutu, Ahtisaari and Robinson arrived in the South Sudan capital, Juba, on Friday and have met with President Salver Kiir to discuss talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia between Sudan and South Sudan. "It is crucial for the prosperity of both countries to realize that their futures are intertwined," said Tutu, adding: "Dialogue is the only way to resolve their differences."

The hostilities in Blue Nile and South Kordofan state have in less than a year forced more than 170,000 Sudanese to flee to South Sudan. About 112,000 have gone to Upper Nile State and 62,000 to Unity state, with many of them arriving exhausted, dehydrated and malnourished.

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Down Through the Generations, Conflict Forces Flight in South Sudan

In what is now South Sudan, families have been fleeing fighting for generations since conflict first erupted there in 1955. The Sudan War ended in 1972, then flared up again in 1983 and dragged on for 22 years to the peace deal in 2005 that led to the south's independence from Sudan in 2011.

But the respite was shortlived. One year ago, fresh conflict broke out between government and opposition supporters in the world's newest country, forcing 1.9 million people in the nation of 11 million from their homes. Most - 1.4 million - ended up somewhere else within South Sudan. Now older people live in stick-and-tarpaulin huts with their children, and their children's children, all three generations - sometimes four - far from home due to yet more war.

The largest settlement for such families is near the town of Mingkaman in South Sudan's Lakes state, close to the central city of Bor. More than 100,000 internally displaced people live in the settlement, located a few hours boat ride up the Nile from the capital, Juba. Photographer Andrew McConnell recently visited Mingkaman to follow the daily life of six families and find out how the wars have affected them.

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Humanitarian organizations in South Sudan are working to deliver emergency assistance to some of the tens of thousands of people displaced by armed conflict in Jonglei state. Most of those uprooted have fled into the bush or have walked for days to reach villages away from the fighting. Others have journeyed even greater distances to find sanctuary in the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Gaining access to those affected in an insecure and isolated area has been a significant challenge for aid workers. Since mid-July, an airlift has been providing food supplies to families living in two previously inaccessible villages and where humanitarian agencies have established temporary bases. As part of the "cluster approach" to humanitarian emergencies, which brings together partners working in the same response sector, UNHCR is leading the protection cluster to ensure the needs of vulnerable individuals among the displaced are addressed.

Emergency food distribution in South Sudan's Jonglei state

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