In December 2013 South Sudan's capital city, Juba, exploded in violence. Fighting between troops loyal to the ousted vice president Riek Machar and those loyal to President Salva Kiir was followed by a wave of ethnic violence. Members of the Nuer ethnic group, who were seen as sympathizing with the opposition forces, were viciously attacked as neighbors turned against one another. One aid worker living in Juba at the time told RI, "We were looking at a potential genocide."
The village of Pagak lies in Ethiopia’s Gambella region on the western border with South Sudan. Pagak essentially exists on both sides of the border, and in better times, people would move from one country to another primarily to meet friends and relatives, engage in trade, or transport livestock.
From the massive migration of an estimated 70,000 unaccompanied children to the U.S. border this past summer to President Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration reform, issues facing Central America have entered the national spotlight here in the US. The underlying internal displacement trends within Central America have not received as much attention, but are perhaps even more important as they reveal a frightening relationship between gang violence and forced migration within Central America.
South Sudan is continuing to reel from internal conflict that ignited in the capital Juba a little more than a year ago and quickly spread throughout the country. On December 15th, 2013, fighting erupted in Juba between soldiers loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar and those loyal to President Salva Kiir. More than one year on the fighting continues, primarily in Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile states in the north.
This month, one of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s longest-running conflicts may finally reach an inflection point. After months of political posturing, it appears that the international community will now launch a military offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The Congolese armed forces (FARDC) will be expected to lead the way, supported by the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO).
The very first article of the United Nations Charter states that a key “purpose and principle” of the world body is that of “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” But sadly, the UN has not always lived up to this noble ideal.
Amidst the news about drastic cuts to the World Food Program’s (WFP) support for Syrian refugees, it’s important to recall that WFP’s programs in other parts of the world have also been scaled back. For instance, in November, WFP halved food rations for the nearly half a million refugees living in camps in Kenya. The danger is not only that these refugees may go hungry, but also that they may be forced to return home before it’s safe to do so.
Earlier this year, I made my first trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in a search for some urban refugees. Although urban refugees are not officially recognised by the government of Tanzania, some organisations which work with the urban refugee population, such as Asylum Access, estimate that there may be over 10,000 in the city.
Many of these refugees fled their countries of origin during the Great Lakes crises of the 1990s, with some Congolese especially arriving more recently having fled renewed violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In early 2014, during peace talks facilitated by the United Nations and the Arab League, the Syrian government and opposition groups reached an agreement to allow some civilians to evacuate the city of Homs after being trapped for more than a year and a half. They also agreed to the delivery of desperately-needed aid. Food supplies had drastically depleted inside the city in the previous months, and families had resorted to eating wild plants and small amounts of insect-infested grains.
In the center of Erbil, northern Iraq, just next to a highway overpass, we met Yezin and his family – refugees from the fighting in neighboring Syria. Nasser himself didn’t get up to greet us. He had been wounded in a mortar attack on his Syrian hometown of Aleppo. The field surgery he had received left a metal plate in his leg that doesn’t allow him to stand or walk on his own any longer. He and his family of seventeen are now living in an abandoned construction lot in Erbil, where it has been hard for humanitarian agencies to find and help them.