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Churches respond to on-going violence in South Sudan

Posted on: July 20, 2016 1:24 PM
A recently arrived South Sudanese refugee loads his belongings into a UNHCR truck at the South Sudan border with Uganda.
Photo Credit: Will Swanson / UNHCR

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has lamented the latest escalation of violence in Juba, South Sudan, saying it has “has caused yet more appalling suffering for the people of South Sudan.” Dr Williams, speaking in his capacity as chair of the British ecumenical development agency Christian Aid, said that the country’s people “have, over the past two and a half years, endured the terrible consequences of a return to war and the bitter disappointment of hopes denied or deferred.”

Dr Williams made his comments in response to recent clashes that have resulted in the deaths of nearly 300 people and forced thousands to flee their homes – many of them seeking sanctuary in cathedrals, churches and schools.

“It is – as so often – the poorest and most vulnerable who bear the brunt of the violence, who have lost lives, loved ones and homes. . .” Dr Williams said. “For too long, women, children, and men in this nation have struggled to continue with their daily lives against the threat of food shortages, widespread displacement, economic crisis, and the trauma of murderous conflict.

“The recent hostilities have demonstrated the fragility of the peace agreement. They have underscored the need for the international community to call the leaders of South Sudan to account in implementing the promise of peace.

“They have shown just how much is at stake in this for future generations in South Sudan: if the next generation is to inherit anything more than devastation, resentment and failed hopes, urgent action is imperative in ending this conflict.

“As they did through decades of civil war, the churches once again stand as one of the few signs of hope, giving voice to the needs of the people of South Sudan… Their commitment to working for peace and reconciliation is as strong as ever.

“As the South Sudan Council of Churches says in its statement, ‘The time for carrying and using weapons has ended; now is the time to build a peaceful nation.’

“I affirm and echo their cry for peace. I stand with them in praying that parties, communities and leaders do everything in their power to ‘create an atmosphere where violence is not an option.’”

Churches across the world are responding to the situation. Episcopal Relief & Development (ERD) – the international aid agency of the US-based Episcopal Church – is supporting its South Sudan and Sudan counterpart Sudra (the Sudanese Development and Relief Agency) in caring for 220 families who have taken refuge in the cathedral grounds.

“It is devastating to hear that the fragile stability in South Sudan is once again threatened by factional violence,” ERD’s senior program officer for disaster response and risk reduction, Nagulan Nesiah, said. “We are praying for our church partners there as they respond to offer shelter and aid, even as some of their staff are also displaced. We strongly hope that the clashes will end peacefully and that people will be able to resume the long work of rebuilding their lives and nation.”

“The area around the Cathedral was one of the hot spots over the weekend, but the Cathedral itself is able to provide some security to about 1,000 people who are sheltering there. We are keeping the Church and Sudra in our thoughts and stand ready to offer additional assistance as needed.”

The United Nations said yesterday that the situation around South Sudan remains tense. Speaking in New York, a spokesperson for the UN peace-keeping mission Unmiss (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) told journalists that the agency had received “deeply disturbing” reports of sexual violence, including rape, being carried out by soldiers in uniform against a number of civilians around UN House in the capital, Juba. The spokesperson said that such actions may constitute a war crime.

“Unmiss calls on all parties to uphold their responsibilities to protect civilians and underscores that those perpetrating these entirely unacceptable attacks will be held accountable,” he said.

The spokesperson also said that Unmiss was “encountering harassment of its personnel and increased levels of obstruction of its operations, including denial of flight clearances.”

Its sister-agency, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), reported yesterday that more than 5,000 people have fled from South Sudan to neighbouring Uganda since the latest violence in the country erupted on 7 July.

The UNHCR said many of the refugees are women and children; and that they expect “more people to arrive as the road linking the South Sudanese capital, Juba, to Uganda has been cleared of checkpoints.”

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, a UNHCR spokesperson said: “People are arriving in Uganda tired and hungry. Many of them have walked for days carrying belongings. Others are suffering from malnutrition after walking without food for days.

“Inside Uganda, more than 6,000 South Sudanese are staying in the Pagiarinya settlement in Adjumani District, while others are waiting at collection points to be transferred to the settlement.”

The spokesman said that the settlement only has space for another 6,500 people “Meaning it is likely to be full within a few days.”