The Elders

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Finding resilience in a fragile place: the Elders visit Yusuf Batil

"We came to show our solidarity to Blue Nile refugees and to underscore our call for peace" – Desmond Tutu.

As the people of South Sudan celebrated their first year of independence, three Elders travelled to the region to encourage dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan.

 

 

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by fighting between the Sudanese army and the SPLM-North in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, nearly 180,000 of whom have fled into South Sudan. Thousands more continue to cross the border every week.

Near the border in South Sudan sits the two-month old refugee camp of Yusuf Batil. The camp currently hosts 35,000 people who have fled the ongoing violence in Blue Nile.

“We came to Yusuf Batil to show our solidarity to Blue Nile refugees and to underscore our call for peace,” said Desmond Tutu.

The Elders arrived at Yusuf Batil just as food distribution started. Thousands of refugees were waiting patiently for two-week family rations of sorghum, yellow split peas, salt and vegetable oil.

The women then carried these heavy loads across the refugee camp to distribute to their families.

A young woman took a moment out of her day to show Mary Robinson how to grind sorghum.

Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson and Martti Ahtisaari were deeply impressed by the commitment and professionalism of the humanitarian workers in the camp. In the space of a few weeks, they had launched a vaccination campaign and installed a field hospital, two clinics, and ten rehydration sites.

In their discussions with staff from UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) and WFP (World Food Programme), Martti Ahtisaari and his fellow Elders were dismayed to hear that aid efforts are being hampered by a severe funding shortfall.

UNHCR has received only one fifth of the US$186 million needed in South Sudan for 2012, and has already exhausted the contributions it has received so far.

It is “a truly unconscionable case of donor fatigue,” Mary Robinson said.

Despite the difficult circumstances at the camp, the Elders were struck by the resilience and kindness among people in Yusuf Batil.

Mary Robinson spoke to young women in Yusuf Batil, some no more than 20 years old, who had been bearing children since puberty.

Women and children form the majority of the population of the camp. The Elders heard that violence against girls and women is a serious problem in many refugee camps, including Yusuf Batil.

In early July 2012 Desmond Tutu, Martti Ahtisaari and Mary Robinson visited Yusuf Batil refugee camp in South Sudan, calling on the international community to address the growing humanitarian crisis resulting from fighting in the Sudanese states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Photos: Adriane Ohanesian | The Elders